When Microsoft first announced the new Kinect would be an always-on requirement for Xbox One, initial concerns turned to privacy. Luckily, Microsoft distanced themselves from that idea rather quickly, abandoning any notion that the Kinect could not be completely powered off.
Still, thoughts of security and Kinect are prevalent today, and may grow multifold after a recent UK report. According to this report, a UK government agency called GCHQ once looked, or might be currently looking, into Kinect as a viable form of spying on ordinary citizens.
According to the report, the GCHQ once conducting a program called Optic Nerve that allegedly used Yahoo! webcams to spy on some 1.8 million people during a span of 6 months. You can read more about the program in The Guardian‘s exposé here.
But the most important detail as far as gamers are concerned is the bit about Kinect. Although, according to the report, no actual Kinect-based spying was done, the GCHQ is evaluating the Xbox 360 camera for a wider program.
This evaluation, however, took place without Microsoft’s knowledge. The Xbox One manufacturer released an official statement shortly after the Optic Nerve report surfaced saying they had “never heard of this program.” Moreover, Microsoft stressed its concern that government agencies of any kind would violate a customer’s privacy in order to collect data. Their spokesperson even mentioned a recent bolstering of encryption services and a push for legal form in the hopes of assuaging Xbox user fears.
“Microsoft has never heard of this program. However, we’re concerned about any reports of governments surreptitiously collecting private customer data. That’s why in December we initiated a broad effort to expand encryption across our services and are advocating for legal reforms.”
Regardless of their intended use, there is a legitimate concern with regards to cameras connected to online devices (webcams, Kinect, cell phones). There are those who feel that their daily activities wouldn’t deem them suspicious and therefore don’t think twice when it comes to spying. But the bigger issue is the fact that some agency, or some person, could potentially tap into these cameras if they actually wanted to. These are devices that are supposed to be geared towards entertainment and physical activity, and the last thing gamers want to be left wondering about is whether or not their Kinect is broadcasting without their knowledge or being used as a form of visual DRM.
The good news is even the Xbox One’s Kinect is not a requirement, so those who are concerned can simply disconnect the device whenever they are not using it. Still, there is a larger issue at play that only seems to be getting more and more complex.
Do you worry about Kinect and spying? How do you think Microsoft should address legitimate gamer concerns?