Microsoft's planning and marketing director Albert Penello has chimed in on controversy over Kinect on Xbox One's viability as an advertising tool, commenting that he's unaware of any plans to gather data for advertising purposes. Should Microsoft ever allow advertisers to track user behaviour via Kinect, he went on, this will require your explicit consent.
The debate stems from an interview with several unnamed Microsoft staff from July this year, certain of whom speculated that Microsoft might use Kinect to monitor the number of users in the room, together with identifying features such as age and gender, in order to target appropriate advertising. This would represent an expansion of the existing, interactive "NuAds" program on Xbox 360.
Microsoft sources were, however, adamant that the manufacturer would "protect the user from any sort of abuse", and Penello underlined this in a recent comment to NeoGAF. "NuAds by definition is simply interactive advertising done on the platform," he began. "Using the functions of the console and Kinect to interact vs. just watching a spot. There's nothing particularly interesting happening here unless you're in the advertising business, and we've done a few on Xbox 360 today.
"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," he insisted. "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."
Penello proceeded to illustrate how Microsoft is protecting users' privacy on Xbox One. "First, Kinect can recognize your face and log you in automatically. There could be some cool features we could enable if we stored that data in the cloud, like being able to be auto-recognized at a friend's. I get asked for that feature a lot. But, for privacy reasons, your facial data doesn't leave the console.
"Second: You'll see us do some things around Skype that freezes the video when Skype is not in focus (meaning, it's not the primary app). If you go back to the home screen, or launch another app, we actually stop the video stream. We do this so the user can't even ACCIDENTALLY have the video stream going on in the background.
"I'll say this - we take a lot of heat around stuff we've done and I can roll with it," he concluded. "Some of it is deserved. But preventing Kinect from being used inappropriately is something the team takes very seriously. Hope that helps."
Assuming you had any to begin with, are your fears assuaged? As we all hopefully know by now, Kinect has a number of privacy settings and is not required for the Xbox One to run, though every console will nonetheless ship with a sensor. Microsoft has also said that it will "aggressively challenge" any US government attempt to invade consumer privacy, following a Guardian report on the activities of the NSA.