Microsoft's Kinect for the the XBOX 360 can very well be this Holiday season's hot item. It shouldn't be much of a surprise either, for it has the family-friendly appeal to draw in non-gamers, and promising technology that can interest even the most seasoned gamers. Besides, if Oprah said that the Kinect was cool, it's guaranteed to be swallowed up by frenzied soccer moms everywhere.
However, there is a privacy concern regarding the Kinect that everyone should be aware of. The Kinect sensor is designed to be placed in front of the TV where it can watch, recognize, and listen to whoever is in front of it. The sensor is plugged into the XBOX 360, which is a system that is almost always online. The possibility of the technology peering into our homes and sending information online is a bit unsettling, but it might not be too far from what's possible. Online advertising has been facing increasing scrutiny lately, and using cameras and facial recognition can only add fuel to the fire. What can the Kinect see, and what does Microsoft have to say in response to these privacy concerns?
Kinect's fancy technology can be used beyond its primary purpose of being a hands-free gaming controller. According to Dennis Derkin, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment division, the Kinect has the potential for business opportunities for targeted game marketing and advertising.
"We can cater which content we present to you based on who you are," Daurkin said to investors. "How many people are in the room when an ad is shown? How many people are in the room when a game is being played? When you add this sort of device to a living room, there's a bunch of business opportunities that come with that."
So, what kind of information is potentially being observed and reported to advertisers? If you and your friends were watching a sporting event (such as XBOX Live's new ESPN channel) for example, the camera could see what team you support based on the color of the jerseys that you wear. Advertisers can use this information and tailor to specific Kinect users.
Although it sounds a bit creepy, it's not really that much different from the way Facebook handles its advertising. In fact, you're probably sending much more information on your Facebook profile than anything the Kinect can gather. Your favorite books, movies, music, your marital status, and age can all be used for Facebook's marketing purposes. Kinect isn't going to be sending raw video of you learning how to dance, however. The information sent will likely be along the lines of charts and numbers.
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Microsoft was quick to respond to these concerns, assuring us that our privacy and safety is their top priority. They issued the following 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.
For the time being, the Kinect is harmless enough in and of itself. However, if the device has the potential to do what Mr. Derkin claims in can do, then the capability for Kinect to watch you is there, whether it is used or not. Still, it's probably the safest bet to not play Kinect games naked.