Xbox One by default features camera that works in the dark and microphone you can’t turn off

by Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
May 23, 2013

(Image credit: Javier Dominguez Ferriero/Flickr)

By default, the upcoming Xbox One from Microsoft will feature an always-on microphone and camera that works in the dark, both of which are constantly connected to the internet and can’t be turned off.

The creepiness is only compounded when one realizes that Microsoft helps develop massive surveillance systems like the Domain Awareness System used in New York City. Microsoft has also been questioned about the privacy and security of Skype and criticized for censoring Windows Live Messenger chats.

Putting a product like this by Microsoft – a company that backed privacy-crushing legislation in the past – is only asking for trouble.

The new Kinect 2.0 will be bundled with every Xbox One and according to Extreme Tech, the Xbox One will not work if the Kinect isn’t plugged in.

That might sound quite nonsensical, but it was confirmed by Xbox’s UK marketing director.

“Xbox’s UK marketing director Harvey Eagle has said that the console will not function without Kinect connected,” Keza MacDonald wrote for IGN.

“Kinect does require to be connected to Xbox One in all cases, yes,” Harvey Eagle told IGN after a Microsoft-hosted event in London on May 21, 2013.

This was also confirmed by Corporate VP of Microsoft Studios Phil Spencer when he told Joystiq, “Kinect has to be connected to Xbox One.”

It gets even creepier when we learn that the new Kinect is capable of examining your facial features and identifying you, even if you don’t have the controller in hand. Perhaps even worse, it can estimate your heart rate.

“By examining your face’s skin color and transparency, the Kinect and Xbox One are able to estimate your current heart rate,” according to Joystiq.

While some users may think the Kinect will be awesome, others will be troubled by the fact that it remains on even when the Xbox One itself is turned off.

This fact is revealed when one realizes that one of the “great addition[s]” of the new Kinect is that it has “the ability to turn on the console just by saying ‘Xbox On,’” according to iDigital Times.

Obviously the device must remain on even when the Xbox itself is off in order for this feature to work.

Furthermore, the 1080p HD camera on the Kinect uses active infrared technology, thus eliminating any need light to accurately sense motion.

That wouldn’t necessarily be all that worrisome if Microsoft was vigilant in protecting user privacy. Unfortunately, Microsoft states in their Xbox Live terms of service that users should not expect any level or privacy.

Some of the statements in the terms of service that make this type of technology troubling include:

“[W]e may access or disclose information about you, including the content of your communications, in order to: (a) comply with the law or respond to lawful requests or legal process; (b) protect the rights or property of Microsoft or our customers, including the enforcement of our agreements or policies governing your use of the Service; or (c) act on a good faith belief that such access or disclosure is necessary to protect the personal safety of Microsoft employees, customers, or the public.”

Not to mention the explicit statement:

“You should not expect any level of privacy concerning your use of the live communication features (for example, voice chat, video and communications in live-hosted gameplay sessions) offered through the Service.  These communications may be monitored; however, we cannot monitor the entire Service and make no attempt to do so.  You understand that these communications can be recorded and used by others , and communications in live-hosted gameplay sessions may be broadcast to others.”

While it’s obviously quite obvious that the in-game communication is not private (since you’re talking to other human beings), the terms do not limit the lack of privacy to only those types of communications.

Instead, it says, “for example,” leaving the possibility that the information captured by the always-on Kinect would fall under similar terms.

Unfortunately when it comes to corporations like Microsoft, we can’t assume the best and think that all communications captured by Kinect will be treated as private and protected.

Furthermore, we must realize that this type of technology would be a prime target for hackers.

Microsoft says that privacy is a “top priority” and that “Kinect for Xbox 360 was designed and built with strong privacy protections in place and the new Kinect will continue this commitment.”

Yet as Extreme Tech points out, “we know from experience, though, no system is invulnerable to the manifold attack vectors exploited by malware authors. The Xbox and Xbox 360 were chipped/modded/rooted, and it’s fairly safe to assume that the Xbox One will also suffer the same fate.”

To make matters even worse, in 2012 Microsoft filed for a patent related to their Kinect system that uses “camera-based system that would monitor the number of viewers in a room and check to see if the number of occupants exceeded a certain threshold set by the content provider.”

“If there are too many warm bodies present, the device owner would be prompted to purchase a license for a greater number of viewers,” Extreme Tech explained in an article.

Concerned? You have some very legitimate reasons to be. You will probably want to keep these in mind when considering the purchase of an Xbox One.

UPDATE: While Extreme Tech says that it will constantly be connected to the Internet, Kotaku writes, “Microsoft is also being sketchy about whether or not the platform will be always-online, something that has been rumored for quite some time now.”

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2 responses

  1. feelingblind

    I wrote my own lenghty blog post as to how I feel about this, but basically it’s a complete deal-breaker. I wouldn’t even accept one as a gift, because it’s a Trojan Horse for surveillance.


    May 25, 2013 at 12:01 AM

  2. feelingblind

    I wrote my own lengthy blog post as to how I feel about this, but basically it’s a complete deal-breaker. I wouldn’t even accept one as a gift, because it’s a Trojan Horse for surveillance.


    May 25, 2013 at 12:02 AM

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