The Xbox One Is A Surveillance Device According To Aussie Privacy Paranoids

I'm all for protecting civil liberties when it comes to the intersection of technology and personal privacy, but with this particular story, everyone needs to just relax a little. The head of Civil Liberties Australia has come out with a big stick to hit Microsoft with over the Kinect voice and video features on the new Xbox One, saying that it's a "surveillance device" in people's homes. Come on. Really?!

For the uninitiated, the Xbox One has a beefed up Kinect sensor which now sees pretty much everything in front of it, from subtle wrist and finger movements, (reportedly) right down to the heartbeat of a person standing in front of it. Interestingly, it can also work in complete darkness.

The new Kinect will also have advanced voice controls baked in, meaning you can control your entire Xbox One just with your voice and a few simple hand gestures from the couch.

The head of Civil Liberties Australia, Tim Vines, spoke to GamesFix about the new Kinect, and said that users should be wary of what the device is capable of. I'll quote him directly from the article (which you should read) so there's no confusion:

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. 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.

Seriously, all this hysteria over the Xbox One supposedly "watching you" is complete tosh. What's Microsoft going to do? Get a 3D wireframe of you scratching yourself and post it online for everyone to point and laugh at you? Is it going to take snaps of your lounge and upload it to the super-top secret lounge database for future use? No. It's there to facilitate gaming. Get over yourselves, paranoids.

If you don't want to be "watched" by the new Kinect, invest in a roll of duct tape to seal the camera shut, or better yet, don't buy one. [GamesFix]

WATCH MORE: Gaming News


    But it can tell company's how meny people are in the room watching TV allowing for more accurate ratings.

    You know how the internet is, Luke. There are throngs of people just waiting for a reason to break out the pitchforks and go on a good old-fashioned witch hunt. And once an internet mob is whipped up into a fury, there's very little anyone can do to calm it down except to wait. Mere 'facts' certainly don't make a difference. Certainly any sense of rationality and perspective goes right out the window.

    Last edited 28/05/13 10:03 am

      The paranoids might not have any logic to their tinfoily ways, but there is genuine cause for concern.

      Unlike a smartphone, the Xbox1 will be positioned out in the open and connected to fast, reliable, plentiful internet access.

      As an advertiser, I know that Xbox1 can already tell how you feel right now, from your expressions, posture and heart rate. And it can obviously understand a lot of what you say (and hear all your family issues echoed from the diner) All this information will help me convince you to buy and do things.

      I sell chocolate to you when you feel down. I sell hard rock music when you're angry. I sell 50 Shades of Gray to your girlfriend when she's pissed off at you (I saw her leave in a huff just before).

      If I don't have access yet, well you can bet I'll be lobbying to get it.

    Lol couldn't agree more, although I would feel a little reluctant doing the "adult dance" in the lounge room from now on.

    This seems appropriate:

    Well... yeah. He's right. Knowing that the camera (can't be blocked with duct tape - it's infrared) and microphone are always on, transmitting to someone else and I don't know what they'll do with them means that if I buy an X-Box 1 (and, at this point, I'm not planning to) it's going to be unplugged whenever I'm not using it and when I am the camera will be facing the wall and the microphone listening to music turned up uncomfortably loud.

    I'm not going to let people record me for the same reason that I'm not going to post my webcam login and password to a public site. I'm not going to sign my privacy away to Microsoft to do what they will with. MS has been quite clear about the reason that the camera and microphone are there - it's to monitor how you use their system. What part of the screen you're watching. Your emotional state. Your heart rate. And to send that information to anyone who wants it, particularly advertisers.

    Thanks, but no.

      " (can't be blocked with duct tape - it's infrared) "
      It CAN be blocked. Infra red (at this level) still can't "see" through anything much.
      Note, I said "at this level" This gear is nothing like the FLIR devices you see on the news.
      Try putting tape over the IR sensor on your telly and see how well it responds to the remote.
      Not having a go here, just offering up some info. :)

        I just tried that. It picks it up quite nicely, thanks. (Tried on a Samsung TV and a Yamaha amp).

        I did a mod where I put a digital photo frame inside an IKEA picture frame a few years back and intentionally covered up the IR receiver with the matboard which is perhaps 2mm thick cardboard. The remote still works through this cardboard within about 1-2m range. However I suspect an IR camera image would be severely limited in clarity by a piece of thickish cardboard.

      You, Sir, are a case in point example of every over-paranoid self-centered dipwad who thinks their personal information is more valuable than it actually is.

      Last edited 28/05/13 11:35 am

        Yet I note that you didn't respond offering a login and password for a webcam with microphone mounted in your loungeroom so we can watch you whenever we want.

        Do you not trust anyone who might care to know about you at any time, or are you an over-paranoid self-centred dipwad who thinks your personal information is more valuable than it actually is? According to you, those are your only choices.

        The fact that my data might be bought by someone for pennies doesn't mean it's worth more than that to me.

        And you sir are a perfect example of someone (note that I haven't sunk to your level of name calling. Are you 12?) who thinks their own opinions are better than some other persons and fails to understand that maybe, just maybe, someone elses personal information may actually be worth more than yours.
        Either way, it's their info to be concerned about, not yours.

        Oh, maybe this is too long for you to read though?

      Wow you managed to write all that while also eating your own excrement and removing the fluoride from your drinking water aren't you quite the multi–tasker

      Its actually a fully functioning 1080p camera.

    There's another option too, for the paranoid - just because the XBox One comes with the Kinect device, doesn't mean it HAS to be plugged in! Just leave it in the box. In the cupboard. In the basement. Burn it with fire.
    As for me, when I get my hands on the shiny new XBox, I'll probably connect the Kinect, use it for an hour or so, then chuck it in the cupboard. Exactly what I did with it's baby brother. I'm not concerned with privacy - I just don't have a use for the thing. In my old house, there just wasn't space to use it. In my new place I use a front projector, so I can't stand in front of the screen without blocking my own view!

      Actually I'm pretty sure you can't run the XBone without the Kinect plugged in.

        I heard the same thing. Wonder if you can just turn it around when you don't want to use it.

        I presume you can still use the controller to do most functions.

      From what I've heard you need the Kinect connected for the Xbox One to function....

        You can turn off all the kinect functions in the settings, and any data recorded stays on the xbox and is not sent elsewhere. This was already clarified.

          It got reclarified back again. MS can't keep many of their messages straight on this release, but the current state of play is that Kinect data will be manditorily transmitted back to base each day, including identifiers for individuals where possible (e.g. face tracking, voice tracking once they work out how to do it).

            If that's the case I assume it would be saving your profile details on your games and achievements so you can easily roam to other Xbox One consoles and log in. This is a great feature. No more carrying game disks or memory cards.

    Will the new kinect be able to work with the xbox 360?

    Anyone read the privacy policy? I'm sure you will be surprised. I don't trust Microsoft as far as I could throw them. XBox will have security issues and jacking a live stream wouldn't be that hard.

    As much as this is a bit ludicrous, I can kinda see where he's coming from.
    If anyone was able to gain remote access to an XBone there would be serious privacy issues, especially considering the device is basically always on, just... watching...

      That's why they mandate connecting online once per day: to upload all your details to the MIB.

      You mean like if anyone was able to gain access to a built in laptop webcam that hundreds of millions use every day?.....

      Seriously, this is no more or less likely than webcamc being jacked. And very few people I know duct tape their webcams.....

        Meet another one, @seven_tech. I've done this for years, by electrical-taping a little cardboard flap I usually leave flipped down, but will flip up when I need to be on video for a work videoconference. In part, I suppose this depends on how interesting one might be to others. I've had an interesting career, so I can sometimes be pretty interesting to assorted people. Don't need my privacy invaded. Living alone, I don't need for anyone to know where I am and how I'm dressed (or not) when I am computing.

    The problem with just not buying one is that I want one, I won't be buying one if even half of these rumours turn out to be true, but I will feel like I am missing out.

    All this could be solved if there was an opt out option for any usage stats to be sent anywhere, and you could use it privately. Even then it doesn't solve the problem of possibly being hacked

    And heaven help you if you sit in front of the new Kinect wearing Google Glass! It'll download your brain onto Microsoft's servers where Steve Ballmer will have access to all your sordid whims.

    " Microsoft’s new Xbox meets the definition of a surveillance device under some Australian laws "
    If this is in fact true then from a legal perspective, he's correct.

    However, the media tends to get all hot and bothered over anything that hints of privacy invasion.
    Just look at the hubub over "drones" for eg. And those things are anything but stealthy.
    You can hear one of those anytime it's in operation, but I'll wager there will be minimal notice that your Xbox is paying close attention to you.
    But we'll see what this thing is really about when we can actually get our hands on one and there will still be people sticking things over the camera out of sheer paranoia regardless.

    As for " What’s Microsoft going to do? "
    Well, I have no idea and I doubt that anything I may do will be of any interest to anyone, but then again, who DOES know?
    " No. It’s there to facilitate gaming " How do you know this for a fact?
    Why do any of these companies like Google, Apple et al bother noting and keeping the kind of data that they already collect?
    Was Google snooping network details to facilitate road mapping?

    Personally, I'm not overly enamored of the idea of a camera pointing at me while I'm "in the privacy of my own home" regardless of what I may or may not be up to.
    Not because of privacy concerns, but because, well, it's creepy to think that I'm being watched.
    I'm one of those people who detest having their photo taken though.
    It may well be different for the younger, look at me, facebook generation who seem to delight in showing everyone everywhere their most personal information whether anyone else wants to see it or not.

    Ultimately though, I agree. If, like me the idea of having a camera pointing at you all the time is unsettling, just don't buy one. There's plenty of other forms of entertainment available.
    You don't actually HAVE to have a xbox to live happily.


        Summary: Luke's trolling, the civil liberties expert who's had legal advice knows what he's talking about and you can't trust Microsoft to respect your privacy.

        No one asked you to read it.
        Short enough for your minimal attention span?

      Well said

      Just as a point, I used to work for Microsoft. When I left, they exerted influence over other companies at which I applied, when those potential employers checked my references. Multiple companies told me they were told to make no offer to me under threat of lawsuit, because of proprietary knowledge I held that Microsoft didn't want ANY chance of these companies finding out. Trust them all you want. But if, like me, you once kept an enemy close to keep a good eye on them, they may return the favour in the future and keep a good eye on you. Thanks but no thanks.

    I think it's not too much to ask Microsoft to provide their customers with written details on what they will be doing with the potentially private data and how they intend to protect the rights of their customer base.

    I wouldn't go all nuts and start protesting but I'd still want to know what the risks are before I pick one up.

      I would say that the Privacy Act and the local state and territory privacy laws would require Microsoft to disclose how they use the information.

      *I hope*

        From my reading of the relevant laws, they don't. Especially if you "agree" to it by accepting a use licence, but this is iffy because they may have to prove that you knew what you were agreeing to. But it's not a Privacy Act matter.

          Microsoft is a US company. I believe the Patriot Act applies, among other things.

    Switch it off at the wall when you're not using it?

      That isn't good for specialised hardware. With the PS3 for example, most people would rightly turn it off at the wall or use the kill switch on the back. Constant powering from that practise led to the PSU and other internal components frying or just dying earlier than expected. :\

        If they are that paranoid, don't buy it!
        I don't care if some company is getting my heart rate or emotions, it all goes towards making a better gaming experience. I mean, I have nothing to hide.
        Even if you do turn it around, do you really think Microsoft is going to care? wow you turned it around now we can't get data about you.. no, they wont give a single flip.
        Its not like its a constant video link Microsoft can connect into and watch you whenever they want.
        /end rant

        And you can actually get a switch that sits between the GPO and the plug that allows you to turn the power on and off with a remote, very useful for these paranoid people!

          Wow, you failed at reading my comment. I was not talking about the Kinect at all. Look at my comment and show me where I mentioned the Kinect even once nimrod. Do it, Oh what's that? You can't? I wonder why? Oh yeah, because you're a jackass who jumped down my throat and assumptions about my intent. I didn't even mention privacy once. You're so oblivious to what I said it is astounding. Bravo good sir, I thought I've witnessed most of the stupidity the internet has to offer but you just raised the bar.

            Wow, calm your s**t dude, I clicked the wrong reply button, I meant for the one you replied too, no need to get so defensive and start attacking someone for a genuine mistake.
            People are so quick to jump on top of a chance to start attacking someone, it obviously wasn't meant to be on your comment.
            I think you are the one who "raised the bar", "fine sir".

              Do not try to pass off your mistake as an accident when clearly it's a continuing trend. Irrespective of whether or not you replied to the incorrect comment, the proof does not show that, so you're still wrong. You got put in your place and you didn't like it so you've concocted a weak excuse.

              Taking your comment about attacking people, either mine or the persons comment, either way you attacked first. Also, censored or not, you still applied profanities to your comment.

                Seriously mate? Grow up.
                This is the internet, even if it was meant for your comment, having a little tantrum doesn't change anything.
                Playing the "you started it", really? Are you serious? My 4 year old cousin says that!

                  Sounds like you've realised you're incorrect, trying to retract previous animosity and now attempting to take the higher ground. Nice try. But alas your ploys fail to impress or gather note. I don't care for what you said, intention or insinuation.

    Im gonna make a killing with my tinfoil hat venture

    now 100% more effective against evil global corporations

    I think the words "see", "listen", and "watch" are to blame. It's a computer, but people are ascribing human attributes to it. It's just harder to explain what it's actually doing without going all nerdspeak about it.

    Replace "record" with "track input". Kinect doesn't actually "record" anything, it doesn't continually save all video and audio data to your hard drive for later analysis by a crazy-gigantic staff of 40 million minimum wage employees. It interprets signals into functions.. input tracking.. like your mouse.. or a light switch, a super-advanced light switch.

    Its a camera and a microphone that is (supposedly) always on and connected to the internet... This is a privacy concern... but then again your laptop has the same thing when was the last time the internet had a go at (insert laptop manufacturer here) for having these things on their devices? Or smart phones for that matter! Its very simple, if you do not wish your privacy to be potentially compromised then do not purchase a product that has the potential to do so.

      Exactly, when i went to college, the (Acer) laptops didn't even have an LED to tell you if the camera was on or not, and they were on the internet whenever they were used.

    Why does the kinect suddenly concern people when everyone carries a smartphone or uses a tablet or laptop which all have built in cameras and microphones and are always connected to the internet?

    Don't worry guys, I heard they can't see you if you wear a tinfoil hat.

    Last edited 28/05/13 12:12 pm

    I don't associate being prudent with being paranoid. Businesses are profit driven, obviously, and have to advance their margins to keep their stockholders at bay. My loungeroom is mine, and MS will do whatever it needs to do to advance its own interests. Of course! If I could do the same I probably would. This isn't paranoia, it's just the way things are! I doubt I'll buy a nextbox honestly. MS has a selling job to do at any rate, but I'm sure they'll do well with it, just preferably not with my loungeroom in its statistics.

    Civil Liberties Australia are right.
    It is a survailance device pure and simple, thats what it was built for... thats not to say it's a bad thing. The Kinect was built to watch and listen to you, so if you motion correctly the xBox one will do something, if you speak the right words it will do something. It's not breaching your privacy.

    Now the fact that Microsoft demand it always be pluged into the xBone, and the fact that they've said it's watching and listening even when the console is off, is a little more concerning.
    The fact that the have a patent in place for charging more if the xBone sees more than some preset number of people watching a video from xBox Live, is a worry.
    The fact that they are looking to introduce Achievements for watching TV is a worry. (This leads to the possibility of using it as a Nielson Box, that can guess at age and gender of people watching the show, and maybe even biometric data showing when the audience where most excited), is a worry

    This isn't far fetched, user data could be worth a lot to MS, advertisers would love this information.

    As for covert survailence (as in Police ect. watching/listening to you through the kinect) I would guess that it's coming, I suspect the FBI and DHS in the US are already demanding backdoors be built into the system.
    And no... "If you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to fear" is not an appropriate response.

    As for MS, I expect there are better things for them to watch on youtube than some random persons living room.

    I also expect there will be a hack released (possibly a small dongle) to make the xBone think it has a Kinect attached even when it doesn't.

    Hysteria? You must have read something different Luke.
    I think the whole point of this is that a new form of recording device is about to enter people's homes - a recording device with many holes in the descriptions of access, usability and impact. People definitely SHOULD be interested (and even motivated) to find out what and where this information goes. What rules are there around it's use? What 3rd parties can collect/access. Basically saying "what's the big deal" is the opposite question to what a journalist should be asking.
    I'm not hysterical for asking the question. But I do want to know the full story. In our "Buyer Beware" society, it would be the only sensible route.

    His definitions according to Australian law (and other national laws on this issue for that matter) are absolutely valid. I just love how people including the author dismiss assertions such as this not on the base, that they are factually wrong (which they are not, of course) but dismissing malevolent (or shall we say, consumer-unfriendly) intentions on behalf of the company. I just wonder what kind of world these commentators are living in. Companies must be super-nice entities there...

    Its also insightful, how light an attachment the same people have to concepts such as civil liberties which they seem to take for granted. Well, they are not. Others have struggled to achieve the comfortable place all people in the Western world are living in, and it remains a struggle to keep it this way. Anybody in doubt about this shall have a look at the erosion of liberties over the past thirteen years in the US (or even, to a much smaller degree, Europe). See also the neverending discussion about Internet-firewalls Chinese style etc. I just wonder, why we need all this stuff protecting individual freedoms, consumer rights etc written down in law in the first place, then. We are obviously living in a comfy, super-safe place where no one except scary brown people living in countries ending in "-stan" and the occasional sociopath want to harm us.

    This device will disadvantage the user in various ways:

    It will be commercially exploited to the max by MS directly. This is a fact, the patents are in place (this has even been reported on this very site). The user is being mined for data, naturally without compensations (except, wohoo, "achievements"), benefiting solely MS's bottom-line.

    It can obviously accessed by anybody in varying fashion with the consent of MS. That may be other companies (TV networks, any company wanting to shape their advertisement etc) or government affiliates such as law enforcement. No, I dont need a tinfoil hat there, this stuff is commonplace already with plenty of other online applications.

    Last but not least it is by definition susceptible to criminal activities ("hacking"), either by trying to access this thing directly or by compromising the information kept by MS. As soon as the device is on sale, plenty of people will proof that susceptibility simply for the heck of it, and truly malevolent individuals will then do it sooner or later. Whoever wants to doubt that, shall have a look at Sony's stellar PSN-experience.

    Last edited 28/05/13 4:49 pm

      You talk about liberty, yet you denigrate people for exercising their liberty in a way you disagree with. People have the freedom to choose to buy and use this product and all of its technology and associated services if they wish to. That is, itself, the very embodiment of liberty.

        Say what? Where did I write "people should be forbidden to buy this"? This is an issue that requires clear analysis by those in charge of upholding said civil rights. The auhor is abusing someone (calling people "paranoid" for voicing an opinion substantiated by the law is both an insult and incompetent) and you question my support for liberties. The mind boggles.

        Also your logic is flawed in itself. Consumerism without boundaries does NOT represent a civil liberty. That people like you seem to think it does, spells volumes of the appreciation of such rights and entitlements in the first place. Consumer products have to respect not just the law, but the spirit of the law to protect peoples rights. Every new technology by definition pushes legal boundaries, as any legal framework cannot foresee developments, only adapt to them. According to your logic every new technology must be available for purchase, to hell with the consequences. Nice.

          "People like you", see this is what I'm talking about. You're so quick to judge things you don't have enough information to come to a rational conclusion about. The rest of what you said is simply you trying to push your particular brand of liberty on other people. I would go as far as to say you don't understand the philosophy of liberty at all. The personal consequences of personal choices made by others is not your concern. Worry about your own choices and show enough respect to other people to let them worry about theirs.

          Last edited 29/05/13 10:44 am

            Consumer protection, the letter of the law and inherent problems of specific applications of technology colliding with them, all this is my particular idea of liberty? You dont actually seem to adress any of what I have written, instead cherry-picking particular phrases and taking them grossly out of context.

            Just to show you what I mean, I will actually adress your key point: This is not at all and has never been an issue with what someone decides for themselves. None of my comments, and thats something you still dont seem to understand, were related to whether people want to buy this thing (I dont give a frak) and why. Every single point I did raise concerned the unsound logic of off-handedly dismissing concerns (and insulting or deriding people for their views with it) based both on the law as written, and the technical capabilities as claimed (and the fact that MS is now changing their claims substantially, demonstrates this). Its about how the discussion in support of this device has taken shape, not about whether its right or wrong to buy an XBox.
            I'll leave it at that.

    This will worry the same fruits who wont buy a laptop with a webcam, or put blutac over it to stop hackers from "watching them".

      it's not just a webcam mate...
      I believe the TV ratings usage could be the primary goal as others have mentioned. Your very own Nielsen box whether you like it or not.
      I'll stick to p2p for my TV eps thanks.

    All I can say is "Project Echelon". You have been watched by your government for a very long time. From the 1970's actually. So I don't know why you would be worried about your Xbox One watching you. I have seen "Echelon" in play, its some scary scary shit.

    or point the kinect @ the wall or lay it face down on the table...

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now