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Could a Privacy Law Potentially Affect Microsoft’s Plans for the Xbox One?

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Posted on June 18, 2013 AT 06:22pm

Chalk this one up to ‘terrifying.’

Some of Microsoft’s policies for their upcoming Xbox One console—particularly its persistent desire to remain online—haven’t exactly won over the masses. Consider this as well: each console comes with a more advanced Kinect sensor which is capable of such subtleties as registering a human heartbeat. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Kinect’s camera works in the dark, is capable of picking up audio transmissions, and can quickly detect the owner of the device out of multiple people. All this sounds like the makings of a genuine spy machine, doesn’t it?

Now, consider the latest development regarding American citizens and their privacy. The National Security Agency (NSA) is already collecting data from cell phones, including the time of day calls take place, numbers being dialed, duration of phone calls, and other pertinent data information—though the content of each phone call is supposedly not part of the data collection. Don’t fret, that call from your Doctor regarding your sexual history is private, for now.

Which brings us to an interesting press release on the U.S. House of Representatives website. Two representatives, Rep. Mike Capuano and Rep. Walter Jones are filing the “We Are Watching You Act.” To paraphrase the press release, this act “is in direct response to reports that national telecommunications companies (i.e. cable providers) are exploring technology for digital video recorders (DVRs) which would record personal activities of consumers as they watch television in the privacy of their homes.” In other words, cable companies would like to pursue the ability to monitor people in their homes as they watch television in order to better understand their audience and target consumers with specific ads.

I can’t help but think big brother is upon us!

Surely this can’t be possible without people giving their consent, right?  Well, on one hand the “current law is silent on these devices [DVRs] and this legislation would require both an opt-in for consumers and an on-screen warning whenever the device is recording information about consumers.” However, people could easily be tricked into signing up for the service, or simply might fail to read the fine print. When was the last time you read the terms and conditions when updating your iPhone’s software?

Rep. Mike Capuano has stated, “This may sound preposterous but it is neither a joke nor an exaggeration. These DVRs would essentially observe consumers as they watch television as a way to super-target ads. It is an incredible invasion of privacy. Given what we have recently learned about the access that the government has to the phone numbers we call, the emails we send and the websites we visit, it is important for consumers to decide for themselves whether they want this technology. Think about what you do in the privacy of your own home and then think about how you would feel sharing that information with your cable company, their advertisers and your government.”

How would it all work? In theory, say you’re at home with the television on, and you get up to clean the house. The next commercial to air would be tailored to your activity—an advertisement for cleaning products, or the latest vacuum from Hoover, for example. Or, consider that you’re having a conversation with your significant other about what to do for dinner. Suddenly a restaurant commercial comes on, promoting their latest specials.

So how does all of this connect to the Xbox One? While Microsoft has debunked rumors that their next-gen console will collect data on system owners, and promised a number of privacy settings on what the Kinect sensor can (and cannot) track, there are still a number of similarities between what’s being done with the Xbox One and what’s being targeted in this legislation. After all, it meets all the prerequisites: it requires an internet connection, and it has one of the most advanced cameras for motion tracking, facial recognition, and the ability to observe.

As someone who loves to play games, I’d hate to have my videogame console, the same one I’ll be playing Halo on, potentially be seen as a threat to my privacy. If the laws to monitor Americans increase, and the NSA is given a stronger reach, I’d like to know that Microsoft has safety precautions in tow to counteract such measurements. Maybe I’m just jumping the gun here, but you can never be too careful. Microsoft, my advice to you is the same thing Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We all want an awesomely powerful console, one with a more advanced Kinect camera, but we also want to know we’re not investing in a spy machine.

For now, most of this worry is simply conjecture. However, should this legislation take hold, and should what’s being done with the Xbox One and new Kinect sensor be determined to fall under the jurisdiction of this law, it could potentially throw a huge wrench into Microsoft’s plans for the future of home consoles.

What do you think about all of this? Post in the comments below!

Wm. Brooks Huber, News Editor
Wm. Brooks Huber managed to go full circle. After leveling up out in the real world—and learning a few tricks of the trade—EGM's former editorial intern came crawling back. We decided to let him in. With his newfound sense of self-worth as EGM's news editor, Brooks is eager to show off all the power, courage, and wisdom he's attained. Follow him at your own risk via Twitter: @brookshuber. Meet the rest of the crew

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