Microsoft and Sony already collects vasts amounts of data from gamers using the Xbox 360 or PS3 when they connect to Xbox Live or PSN. Things like how often and how long a game is played, what times of day, how many pieces of DLC you buy per month, what games you play and what else you spend your time doing and plenty of other stats to help its research into gamers habits. They also collect lots of personal data including bank details and such like. What’s interesting is that most people who use their consoles online agree to this when they accept the terms and conditions – usually without reading through the reams of text.
When Kinect was introduced, there were some concerns that when the device was seemingly switched off, it would still be listening or watching but that still went on to sell 24 million units. Now that Xbox One has been announced, the same concerns are being raised again and comparisons to the George Orwell novel 1984 are being tossed around. What’s fact and what is complete fiction made up by those with active imaginations couldn’t be further from the truth. For example:
The paranoid might suggest – Kinect is always listening and recording your voice , watching you having sex, with Microsoft employees studying the data and sharing it with advertisers and government agencies.
Whereas the truth is, the Kinect features can be manually switched on and off as and when required – the Xbox merely needs the Kinect to be plugged in to function as it’s an integrated part of the console. No one is actually recording your voice and or interested in what you are doing or looking at raw footage of gamers playing games without the user’s consent. Kinect 1 had an app that users agreed to test the voice functions in their native tongues, so as to help the voice technology. To suggest these types of apps run in the background when players aren’t even using the console is far fetched. Yes, voice chat can be accomplished using the Kinect Mic, but this could be changed in the options. It’s obvious Kinect 2 will also have a mute or off function for voice chat.
Microsoft has clearly stated that users will be able to opt in or out of various research functions of Kinect. Phil Harrison had this to say on the matter when speaking to Eurogamer:
“Microsoft has very, very good policies around privacy. We’re a leader in the world of privacy, I think you’ll find,”
“We take it very seriously. We aren’t using Kinect to snoop on anybody at all. We listen for the word ‘Xbox on’ and then switch on the machine, but we don’t transmit personal data in any way, shape or form that could be personally identifiable to you, unless you explicitly opt into that.”
Sony will also be using camera based technology with its PS4 and again, similar concerns can be raised as with the original Kinect which could be unplugged from the console. What data could be collected whilst the camera is in use is the big issue here regardless of whether it’s unplugged when not used. The message here should be simple for anyone who has concerns when using these devices, is to fully understand what you’re getting yourself into. Take the time to read the terms and if you don’t agree, then don’t use the console or peripheral or play offline.
The bottom line is, and this applies to all gamers using online connected games consoles is that Sony and Microsoft already gains vast amounts of data from gamers without the need for cameras and other peripherals. The same can be said about other devices such as mobile phones, iPads and Laptops. In the case of mobile phone technology, the police are given powers to track users via GPS and look at call records if needed yet people aren’t up in arms over this seeming invasion of privacy. What’s perhaps a bigger concern is whether hackers would be able to access the Live network or PSN and then hack into the cameras to watch gamers. However, no such stories surfaced from the millions of Kinect One users so is perhaps a little far fetched. However, the FBI did issue warnings about hackers using laptop webcams to spy on people – yet people still purchase those devices. Perhaps sales of post it notes will increase when next gen consoles are released.