Xbox One Lets You Turn Off Kinect — Not That You’d Want To

The game console was always a poor target for privacy concerns.

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Depending on your view of things, Microsoft has either done a lot of backpedaling or a lot of listening to people’s concerns about the Xbox One.

The company now says Kinect won’t have to be plugged in or turned on while the Xbox One is in use. The motion controller will still be included with every console, but it can stay disconnected unless you’re playing a game that requires Kinect to function. Previously, Microsoft had said the console wouldn’t work unless Kinect was plugged in.

To recap Microsoft’s other recent policy reversals: You’ll be allowed to play games offline and trade disc-based games without restriction. There will be no region locking, so you can buy a game in one continent and play it in another. Just last week, Microsoft decided it will include a headset with the console after all.

Compared to Microsoft’s backtracking on offline play and used games, the change in Kinect policy should be less contentious. Your ability to turn off Kinect doesn’t require any trade-offs, so I can’t imagine anyone being upset about it. Still, the backlash against Kinect was a bit misguided to begin with. Aside from blind paranoia, I’m not sure why you’d want to use the Xbox One with Kinect turned off.

The privacy concerns that Microsoft is responding to are overblown compared to what tech companies are actually doing with users’ data. Granted, the timing of the NSA Prism revelations might make people wary about installing cameras and microphones in their living rooms–particularly ones that must be connected at all times–but as Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo points out, cameras and microphones come standard in practically every computing device we use. Your laptop’s webcam doesn’t secretly record you, and Kinect wouldn’t have done so either.

“When Xbox One is on and you’re simply having a conversation in your living room, your conversation is not being recorded or uploaded,” Microsoft explained in June. For apps that do make use of Kinect, Microsoft said personal data would not leave the console without explicit permission.

Meanwhile, services such as Gmail, Facebook and Skype do store the details of your online activity and will share that information with the government when ordered to do so by a court. In some circumstances that type of government data collection doesn’t require a warrant. If you’re looking for a place to focus your privacy worries, start with those online communication services. Your game console is a poor target by comparison.

Privacy paranoia aside, Kinect promises some clear benefits to being switched on at all times. You can turn the system on with your voice and launch apps from anywhere by speaking instead of navigating through menus. When you pick up a controller, Kinect can recognize who you are and load your profile, so you don’t have to thumb through a bunch of sign in screens. Even if you never intend to play a game with motion controls, the camera and microphone are tools for doing things faster.

The other gripe with Kinect has nothing to do with privacy: Because the motion controller is bundled with the Xbox One, the entire package is more expensive, at $500. It could be the main reason for the $100 price premium over Sony’s PlayStation 4, and a sticking point for people with no interest in voice and video feedback.

But Microsoft isn’t backing down on that front. The rationale is that when Kinect is included with every console, game makers will have more incentive to add voice or motion controls to their games. Tacked-on Kinect features don’t make for a great experience–we know that much from the current Xbox 360–but developers may be more compelled to experiment with Kinect if they know every Xbox One user can take advantage.

In the end, allowing users to unplug Kinect was the right decision, if only because it will make people feel better. But if you’re just going to turn it off, you’re missing one of the main reasons for getting an Xbox One in the first place.

29 comments
EjHagedon
EjHagedon

It seems to be no different then what the NSA is doing these days except i can play Titanfall while they do it :P

kentcooper777
kentcooper777

Why do they even have access to listen in on our conversations i feel this is wrong and thats why im going with the ps4.

bathswana
bathswana

Teehee. These comments are brought to you by the Sony Defense Force and the Microsoft Haters Alliance.

MikeKu
MikeKu

one other thing.. look at it like this.. 


What would you say If the government (or anyone for that matter) approached you and said: 

"Hey, we're going to put a camera in your home that watches you and your family day and night, measures your heart rates, logs programs you watch, sees who you invite over, tracks your daily routine, and much, much more. But don't worry, you can control your TV and play video games by talking to it instead of using a remote."


I'd say.. "uhh.. where's your warrant?"

MikeKu
MikeKu

Having a piece of equipment in your living room that is always on and has the ability to recognize individuals, measure heart rate, and track body movement is EXTREMELY scary. The article draws a natural parallel to other online services, but does not recognize that all of the data collected by those other services is only collectable when the user chooses to input that data. It's a little different when data is able to be be collected on you as soon as you walk in your house. Kinect would know if you're in your house, what your routine is like, what you're doing or watching at any given moment, who is with you, etc.. This data isn't necessarily dangerous just because of the whole "Big Brother" thing, (although that should be enough) but also because of the implications for further invasion of privacy by retailers in the future.

 People are becoming desensitized to being watched. Web browsers tailor ads based on sites we visit, cell phones track our whereabouts, and social media collects massive data about our friends, interests, and habits. These are all things that we just ignore on a day to day basis. However, all of these things can be controlled by simply not using certain services or by at least limiting their use. Kinect would have the ability to look into your home and gather information without any personal confirmation, and track you at your most unguarded and exposed moments. Retailers across the globe would orgasm at the thought of all that data. It's a blatant invasion of personal rights, and I'm glad they are at least making it look like they aren't foaming at the mouth to collect all that juicy information.

mcowdery
mcowdery

Lol, forcing consumers to buy the camera will NOT make developers include camera functionality. That's Ballmer logic. Why? Because those games have to played on the PS4 too, which, since you are forcing your console to be far more expensive, will be where the majority of consumers will be anyways. Yes, they could simply add more development time to make it work on the xbox 1, but that's assuming it's an easy development task and it's popular enough that it's worth it. I want to give them credit for at least taking risks, but all the DRM stuff just shows that it's just SO poorly designed. Even if they DID backtrack on a lot of these things, are you going to trust that they got everything else right? I don't intend on buying any console on day 1 anyways, but I would be REALLY hesitant to pull the trigger on a $500 machine with Microsoft's history even after 6 months let alone first day.

Will_Baxter
Will_Baxter

I realize I'm way late to the party, but I'd just like to say that opinionated as this article looks, I think it's rooted in realism. In the end though, I don't think it was the right decision to do this. The Kinect was supposed to be the primary method of interacting with the new Xbox; the controller's just there for the games.

My concern is that forcing users to plug in the Kinect to play a game will be enough of a reason to disincentivize developers from properly developing games and apps for it. I can easily see people being upset if, for example, the next Halo game requires the Kinect only for voice control or the next Forza game requires it only for 3D head-tracking. If this year has taught us anything, it's that gamers can be really temperamental.

That's really unfair to developers who may now feel the need to develop apps and balance games for multiple input methods.

TwinStripeUK
TwinStripeUK

Why do most posters on here seem to think that the new Kinect is the ONLY way that a government agency can spy on you? If they really want to, they can use directional microphones to hear you through your windows, tap your phone line, read your e-mail, track you via CCTV and also check your financial transactions. Any idiot with Wireshark could sniff your internet traffic (and probably does).

From what I can see the only people who'd have anything at all to fear from this are the kind of people who sit naked in front of their console taking drugs, building bombs and touching themselves inappropriately - in which case you're EXACTLY the sort of person the government NEEDS to be watching.

The government have also got far better things to do than watch or monitor thousands of users just on the off chance that while playing 'Call Of Duty' you suddenly scream your allegiance to a terrorist organization in sheer frustration/ecstasy ..

Kinect 2 is actually one of the reasons I'm buying an XBOX ONE (the other was the software sharing aspect which the Sony fanboys managed to get MS to backtrack on). If I buy a next-gen console, I want some next gen hardware and next-gen thinking behind it. When I want the same-old-same-old, I'm put in an order for a PS4 (and by then they might have actually produced more than ten of them and hopefully avoided bankruptcy by doing so).

bradsimpson
bradsimpson

The author may fail to understand that while we all understand in the grand scheme of spying, the Kinect's always on and monitoring feature, while seemingly innocuous, is still another layer of privacy invasion that we could do without.  Being able to unplug and turn off Kinect and still use the Xbox is paramount to regaining some trust in a company that has completely thrown that trust out the window with the revelations of NSA spying.

Instead of ridiculing the consumer for wanting more privacy and control, as silly and unimportant as the Kinect policy's are, I think the author should take a little more time to investigate the reasons why the policy was set up in the first place.

SimonMaxwell
SimonMaxwell

It's clear the writer of this article is a Kinect fanboy. My opposition to Kinect has nothing to do with paranoia. I simply don't want to be forced to pay extra for a piece of crap peripheral that I don't want. Until Microsoft drop Kinect from its Xbone bundles, I won't be buying one. At least Sony had the sense to make the PS4 Eye an optional extra.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

The fun thing about Microsoft is that since Gates left it's become just as evil and money-grabbing as Apple & Linux fanbois always used to claim it was - and when its evil money-grabbing schemes are exposed, it plays the wounded virgin.

In less than two years Microsoft has managed to change me into a Microsoft hater, I now consider it a viler company than even Sony, and that is no small feat.

tomegnome
tomegnome

Manymen, they're also ignoring the fact that my laptop's webcam doesn't have the ability to see in the dark, monitor my heart rate, register my facial expressions/mood, and it isn't designed to passively listen to me 24hrs a day while being connected to a dedicated network of 300,000 servers to handle the information. Not the same thing.

MANYMEN
MANYMEN

This author claims that our laptop webcams dont secretly record us consumers.......... wouldnt be so sure on that one

commentonitall
commentonitall

@TwinStripeUK 

See the constitution and read up on why our predecessors decided to fight a revolutionary war.  It's not that people are criminals, it's that our homes are sacred.  It is not the government I am worried about, it's other people being able to hack into the system.  Imagine the blackmailing and privacy concerns.  Recently there was an article about a samsung TV that is hackable and people can watch you.  What if someone wants to rob your house and they are tech savvy? They can do recon without physically being there.  There are so many more implications beyond our government that you are failing to see.  Think about it, someone can learn your habits over the course of a month and know exactly when you are not going to be home, what if you have children and someone sees this as a way to take them?  These are not conspiracy theories, these are crimes people already commit and with the aid of being able to look into your living room it only makes them more complicated and dangerous.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@bradsimpson I do think you raise a valid point though. It is somewhat of a security blanket for users who are already on edge about privacy and government snooping. It just seemed to me that the Kinect backlash was disproportional when plenty of other tech companies are introducing new avenues for collecting personal data _all the time_. And many of those companies offer products with webcams on them.

crimson873
crimson873

@SimonMaxwell Sony made the Eye optional because it is a bad technology. No developers will even think about using such a shoddy device, especially when it does not come with every console: because consumers themselves know that the Eye is bad, they won't buy it and as such developers won't use it either. It is a circuitous issue.


On the other hand, the Kinect is a much better technology that has been optimized in every way possible. It will enhance gaming, user-friendliness, and next-gen qualities in games. The Kinect is a device for the future that Microsoft will undoubtedly profit from, but so will gamers as well.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@tomegnome To clarify, the only thing it's designed to passively listen for is the phrase "Xbox On," and you were allowed to disable that function even before the policy change.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@MANYMEN Yeah man. We must renounce laptops before it is too late!

Will_Baxter
Will_Baxter

@commentonitall @TwinStripeUK Technically speaking, you shouldn't have much cause for concern. Tech companies do a whole lot to protect you from hackers. They care about security. Unencrypted raw data definitely won't be sent from the Kinect through your internet connection, and expect the apps on the Xbox to have a very rigorous approval process. That kind of whitelist makes it far more secure than a PC, but the Xbox will still get regular software updates and security fixes.

Also, while I like your passion, this has little, if anything, to do with the Revolutionary War.

MatthewBryant
MatthewBryant

@newmanjb @tomegnome So blind paranoia involves being wary about letting an always on webcam that has to turned on at all times in your home that's developed by a company that allows the government to spy on you through Skype, which Microsoft owns, via a webcam?  How could anyone be naive enough to accuse someone of blind paranoia when Microsoft actively allows the government to spy on you via webcam already?  So a company that's lied to us about privacy for 5 years should suddenly be believed when they say the Kinect doesn't monitor us?  I'm sorry, but it seems that the only blind person here is you.  Not to mention insulting wary consumers isn't very professional.  Good job.  Learn how to be a journalist.

MatthewBryant
MatthewBryant

@newmanjb @MANYMEN Apparently you were asleep for the past 3 months.  PRISM does exist, and the government has been using Skype, owned by Microsoft, to spy on people through webcams for the past 5 years.  Reality exists.  You're naivete is through the roof.

Will_Baxter
Will_Baxter

@MatthewBryant @newmanjb @tomegnome It's just as much of an always-on webcam as the one on your laptop is. In other words, it's not an always-on webcam.

Also remember that the reason that Microsoft shares Skype data is that they're required, by a very broken law, to do so. This is a public policy issue, not a Microsoft issue.

Nocando
Nocando

I honestly believe that Sony would not get nearly as much backlash if they attempted to employ the same features and policies.

MatthewBryant
MatthewBryant

@newmanjb @MatthewBryant @MANYMEN You're comparing two things which can't be compared.  Microsoft doesn't manufacture webcams, they do own Skype, however, and it is known that Microsoft is actively working with the government (willingly or not) and releasing information, emails, and video calls to the government.  Kinect is a webcam that Microsoft does manufacture.  XBox One uses Skype.  It doesn't take a lot of logical deduction to figure out what will probably happen.

I'm not saying that the government is going to monitor your every movement, but it doesn't matter.  It's blatantly unconstitutional and honestly just creepy.  It's nobody else's business what I tell my best friend across the country or my wife when one of us is away.  Microsoft is actively working with the government, Sony is not.  So to argue that people are just being paranoid about Kinect is nonsense.  There's good reason to be paranoid about Kinect, and on some level it's likely that the government will monitor us through Kinect.  There's no reason to believe Microsoft will change their stance now, given that they've been allowing the government to do it for 5 years.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@MatthewBryant @newmanjb @MANYMEN Skype is reportedly "wiretapping" video calls, but when it runs in the background, it is not passively recording and uploading anything, and nor is Kinect.

We may disagree here, but I see this on par with Gmail or Facebook making your personal communications available. The issue is with the communications service, not the hardware.