Let’s Hope the Xbox One’s Kinect Camera Is Never Used for Targeted Advertising

Microsoft says it won't target ads to you "unless you choose to allow [it] to do so."

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Good news, those of you worried Microsoft‘s Xbox One is a trojan horse for getting us to do stuff like leap to our feet and shout something like “McDonald’s!” at Kinect’s camera eyeball to bypass a fast food ad: The company says it has no plans to target advertise — tracking your behavior to boomerang corresponding content — at this time.

Speaking to the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference in Phoenix on October 5, Microsoft marketing honcho Yusuf Mehdi said some thing about Microsoft and advertising, including this clip highlighted by Advertising Age:

We are trying to bridge some of the world between online and offline. That’s a little bit of a holy grail in terms of how you understand the consumer in that 360 degrees of their life. We have a pretty unique position at Microsoft because of what we do with digital, as well as more and more with television because of Xbox. It’s early days, but we’re starting to put that together in more of a unifying way, and hopefully at some point we can start to offer that to advertisers broadly.

That set tongues wagging about Xbox One and Kinect and targeted advertising, well, not for the first time.

Albert Penello to the rescue! After Eurogamer poked Microsoft for comment, the company produced a link to an October 3 NeoGAF post by Microsoft’s director of product planning responding to earlier discussion about Xbox One Kinect, behavioral tracking and targeted advertising. Here’s Penello:

What I think you’re asking about is an interview done earlier in the year where someone was talking about how some of the new Xbox One Kinect features *could* be used in advertising – since we can see expressions, engagement, etc. and how that might be used to target advertising. This is the point that seems to draw some controversy.

First – nobody is working on that. We have a lot more interesting and pressing things to dedicate time towards. It was an interview done speculatively, and I’m not aware of any active work in this space.

Second – if something like that ever happened, you can be sure it wouldn’t happen without the user having control over it. Period.

Microsoft then issued a statement claiming Mehdi’s comments were about SmartGlass, not Xbox One Kinect, which sounds like PR airbrushing. Whether he meant Kinect or SmartGlass (or both, or neither), Mehdi was still clearly cheerleading the prospect of handing even more information about consumers over to advertisers. There is, in other words, a zero-percent chance Microsoft’s “holy grail” is SmartGlass and SmartGlass alone. Mehdi was referring to all of Microsoft’s media ecosystem technologies, not just one.

In any case, Microsoft kind of undermined what Penello was saying when it wrote the following in a press statement:

We do not have plans to target ads or content to you based on any data Kinect collects. We have a long-standing commitment to your privacy and will not target ads to you based on any data Kinect collects unless you choose to allow us to do so.

“Unless you choose to allow us to do so.” Behavioral advertising vis-a-vis Kinect is on the table, in other words, it’s just not going to be mandatory. None of this is new, by the way. Microsoft’s been saying as much since it announced Xbox One back in May: that the company won’t collect or share your information with third parties unless you allow it to — but that it might well allow you to, implying the architecture to do so is there, not sitting untouched on some dusty shelf in the idea-space of someone’s mind.

Opt-in? Opt-out? No one knows at this point. I’d hope opt-in, given that we’re talking about a living room camera Microsoft claims can monitor everything from your heart rate to muscle torque as you react to stimuli. No one should have to opt out of behavioral tracking, and if that means no one opts in, so be it.

Sidebar: In a 2009 survey of 1,000 adult Americans organized by the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania, 63% said they didn’t want advertisements tailored to their interests, while 92% said there ought to be a law requiring advertising companies to delete all stored information about them.

A more recent survey conducted by research firm Edelman Berland presented by Adobe in an October 2012 “state of online advertising” overview is even more telling: 68% of consumers are “annoyed” or “distracted” by online ads, and over half off all respondents agree with the statement “Most marketing is a bunch of B.S.”

Speaking for myself and gaming in particular, I don’t want less intrusive ads or others masked as gameplay. I don’t want cheaper, subsidized or even free gaming products if the cost is ads (of any kind, subtle or overt). I certainly don’t want to be the product. I’d like to think companies like Microsoft (and Sony, and Nintendo) not only respect that position, but understand why people feel the way they do, and why for some of us it’s the principle of the thing, not just its functionality.