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Xbox One: Kinect won't be used to spy on you, camera can be switched off

"If you want privacy, we'll give you modes that ensure your privacy."

Microsoft has moved to dispel claims that the new Kinect's voice and face recognition functions constitute an invasion of privacy, revealing that Kinect can, in fact, be turned off (though not, we're guessing, disconnected) while the console is active.

The company's pre-Xbox-One privacy and online safety guidelines already shed a bit of light on this - in brief, Kinect can be set up to identify you at sight, if you wish, but the facial recognition data in question is stored as a series of numbers, and isn't returned to Microsoft via Xbox Live. However, it's probably worth asking how the manufacturer's policies have evolved to reflect the new Kinect's greater accuracy and Xbox One's emphasis on personalising content.


"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," Civil Liberties Australia director Tim Vines People told Nine MSN last week. "People should have the ability to turn off the camera or microphone, even if it limits the functionality of the machine. If Microsoft doesn't allow that, then people should vote with their wallets and skip the next Xbox."

Berlin's federal data protection commissioner Peter Schaar has also expressed concerns, via the same piece. "The Xbox One 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."

Speaking to CNET, Microsoft's Jeff Henshaw has insisted that there are appropriate safeguards in place. "If you want privacy, we'll give you modes that ensure your privacy," he explained. "And we actually have a little bit about this on the Web already. We will have something similar for the Kinect with Xbox One.

"The system is designed to have Kinect be an integral part of the experience. It's not the case where you'll be able to remove the camera altogether. But you'll be able to put the system in modes where you can be completely secure about the fact that the camera is off and can't see you."

In a separate chat with Eurogamer, corporate vice-president Phil Harrison insisted that "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."

Are your fears - assuming you had any to begin with - allayed? Thanks to Aoife for starting this article off before she was summoned away on magazine business.