“Xbox On.” With those two words, Microsoft‘s Yusuf Mehdi seemingly changed gamers’ perception of motion control cameras, and how they can interact with them.
Up until that point, the Kinect had been almost like an opt-in service, where the player needed to turn on their console before the device did its little head nod and then sprung into action. The Xbox One’s version of Kinect, however, appeared to be a bit more “aware” – springing to life even while the console was seemingly powered down. It was almost as if the Kinect was watching and waiting until it was called upon.
This singular feature instantly called into question the idea of privacy, something that has plagued the Kinect for quite some time. If such a device could stay active even while the console was offline, what else was it doing?
Then came a patent application that suggested Microsoft was looking to use the Kinect as a form of visual DRM. According to the patent, the motion controller would monitor the viewers of a piece of media (movie, TV show, etc.), and determine if the end-user had purchased the correct license. In other words, the Kinect was like a theater employee at a movie who makes sure you’re in the right show.
As we reported late last week, though, Microsoft’s patent isn’t necessarily tied to current plans; rather, the company purports they were simply covering their bases. Plain and simple, they wanted to explain the visual DRM feature will not be included in the Xbox One.
Microsoft’s Phil Harrison further emphasized the company’s dedication to privacy in an interview with Eurogamer:
“Yep. 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.”
While it seems like the Kinect will be able to react without the Xbox One being powered on, Harrison promises the machine will not transmit any personal data. He didn’t say it wouldn’t be listening or watching, only that the data Kinect collected would not be used in a way that violates gamers’ privacy.
Gamers are still very wary of Kinect 2.0, and rightfully so. Privacy is hard to come by these days, especially when an active camera is lying “dormant” in their living rooms or bedrooms.
At the same time, Microsoft is looking to continue to push Kinect as a mandatory Xbox peripheral. Every Xbox One will ship with Kinect 2.0 and the device will be a requirement when operating the console. Kinect, at least in Microsoft’s eyes, is not a fad, and support for the device is getting more extensive.
Phil Harrison believes Microsoft will redeem Kinect in the next-gen by making it an integral part of daily media consumption. With players using Kinect to watch cable TV, navigate websites, and for (of course) gaming, the hope is that they will see the motion controller as part of the central Xbox One experience. Will that actually happen? We’ll find out when the console launches later this year.
How do you feel about Kinect? Do you see it as a potential violation of privacy? Will greater support and implementation of Kinect convince you it’s worthwhile?