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Is Microsoft’s XBox One the Latest in Surveillance Technology?

Is Microsoft’s XBox One the Latest in Surveillance Technology?

For gamers and gadget enthusiasts, this week was all about the Electronic Entertainment Expo (dubbed E3 for the cool kids) in Los Angeles. It’s where gamers go to find out about, you know, video games and stuff. This year, Microsoft unveiled its new Xbox One game console. Available until later this year (just in time for the holidays, no doubt), the next generation console seeks to integrate television capabilities into gaming.

The way it does it is with a motion sensor accessory called the Kinect, a camera that can be used to control games and the television via voice and body movement. It detects when you are watching certain ads, and gives you rewards for doing so. You can watch TV and browse the Internet (only on Internet Explorer, of course). They even got a patent for the new technology.

Perhaps due to the recent revelations about the NSA collecting data on, well, everyone, some people are a little up in arms about Microsoft (a supposed co-conspirator with the government in this new Orwellian drama) and its new spy camera. It tracks what you’re watching, detects your heart rate and requires you to be connected to the Internet at least once in a 24 hour period.

Somebody is watching you.

The Daily Mail quoted Tim Vines, the head of Civil Liberties Australia:

Microsoft’s new Xbox meets the definition of a surveillance device under some Australian laws, so they need to be upfront and tell customers whether anyone else can intercept their information or remotely access their device. [It] continuously records all sorts of personal information about me, my reaction rates, my learning or emotional states. These are then processed on an external server, and possibly even passed on to third parties. The fact that Microsoft could potentially spy on my living room is merely a twisted nightmare.

Or… maybe not.

While it does make for a good movie, it seems that it’s not all that nefarious. The “always on” feature is for the voice control. If you want to be all Jetsons-like, you can say “Turn on the TV” and it will, you know, turn on the TV.  If you don’t want to use this feature, you can put it on pause, or turn it off.

In response, Microsoft has updated its web site with clarification to put everyone at ease:

  • “You are in control of what Kinect can see and hear.”  (There are privacy options at setup)
  • “You are in control of when Kinect sensing is On, Off or Paused”
  • “You are in control of your personal data” (You decide which games get played and which data gets shared)
  • “You can use other inputs to control your games, TV and entertainment experiences” (Like the controller or the TV remote)

It should be noted that we won’t know the final features until its release, but it seems safe to say that the government won’t be able to see you in your underwear while playing Halo.

Microsoft should still be on their toes, however.  Right after their unveiling, Sony presented the PS4 with its new bells and whistles…and are pricing it $100.00 less than the Xbox One.

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