Microsoft Kinect: Violating Players’ Privacy?

Microsoft Kinect: Violating Players’ Privacy?

Take note, conspiracy theorists: Kinect may be watching you play. Put your pants on.

It seems like every month there’s at least one uproar over a major corporation gathering private information through its digital services. But the government isn’t using this data to work out candidates for reconditioning through beatings and wire rat masks. Instead, gathered information usually goes to advertisers who find other, admittedly less painful ways to tap into our minds.

In this particular instance, Dennis Durkin, chief operating officer of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment division, spoke at the BMO Capital Markets forum earlier in November and suggested that Kinect can feed back certain information about its users even if the device isn’t immediately active–for instance, it might take in the team colors of a user who’s watching the Xbox 360’s ESPN stream. That information can go back to advertisers.

When the Wall Street Journal mentioned Kinect’s possible alternative uses, Microsoft issued a statement:

“Xbox 360 and Xbox Live do not use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes. Microsoft has a strong track record of implementing some of the best privacy protection measures in the industry. We place great importance on the privacy of our customers’ information and the safety of their experiences.”

To which a Kotaku reader called “ViewFinder” retorted, “Internet Explorer says hi.”

It’s awe-inspiring to think about the sheer amount of advertising that bombards us in our day-to-day lives. Actual feelings about the assault tend to differ according to people’s views on capitalism, but most folks can agree on one thing: We don’t buy an expensive piece of technology like Kinect just so Microsoft can garner our private information against our will.

Buyer information is valuable stuff, and goes a long way into helping companies develop and/or improve their next big product or service. And there’s nothing wrong with gathering that information–provided it’s done with explicit consent, and preferably with some kind of compensation. Club Nintendo is a good example of how companies can collect useful information without violating the trust of its customer base. When consumers buy a Nintendo game or product, they can opt to fill in a survey that asks questions about their age, gender, and the games they play. In return, the consumer earns “coins” that can go towards exclusive rewards and games. Obviously, anyone who doesn’t want their information gathered up like daisies has only to shrug off Club Nintendo.

But all we have from Microsoft is a promise that it’ll never sell your private information. Honest.

What’s the proper reaction to such a claim? Apathy? Anger? Should you sell your Kinect, or refuse to buy one? Unplug the Kinect when it’s not in use? Maybe take up bets on how long it’ll take for a resourceful user to burrow into Kinect’s inner workings and discover that Microsoft is in fact spying on us for the sake of profit?

There’s no one proper response for consumers: It all depends on individual morals. But console developers should keep in mind that this generation is necessarily cynical, and hard to fool. We may not have a choice except to keep flying even after the Transportation Security Administration breaks promises and passes around naked snapshots of our sad sagging flesh, but there’s no shortage of game consoles and accessories to choose from. If we’re dissatisfied by the actions of one company, we can spend our money elsewhere.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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