Kinect: the Big Brother peripheral?

Paul Raven @ 22-11-2010

Concerns begin to arise around the capabilities of Microsoft’s Kinect controller – what exactly are you allowing into your front room [via MonkeyFilter]?

On Thursday, Microsoft Vice President Dennis Durkin told the BMO Digital Entertainment Investor Conference in New York that Kinect offers “a really interesting opportunity” to target content and ads based on who is playing, and to send data back to advertisers.

“When you stand in front of it,” he said, according to news reports, “it has face recognition, voice recognition,” and “we can cater what content gets presented to you based on who you are.” Your wife, Durkin added, could see a different set of content choices than you do, and this can include advertising.

The advertiser will also know, he said, “how many people are in a room when an advertisement is shown,” or when a game is played. He said the system, and therefore advertisers, can also know how many people are engaged with a game or a sporting event, if they are standing up and excited — even if they are wearing Seahawks or Giants jerseys.

We’ve heard about these sorts of capability before, but not in such affordable and desirable household consumer electronics items as the Kinect. Microsoft would like to assuage any concerns, however:

Apparently as a result of Durkin’s remarks, Microsoft issued a statement Thursday that neither its Xbox 360 video-game controller nor Xbox Live “use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes.”

The instinctively paranoid and mistrustful might find themselves appending a “… yet!” onto the end of that statement. And long-time Microsoft haterz will get a wry chuckle out of this follow-up:

The company added that it has a strong track record “for implementing some of the best privacy-protection measures in the industry.”

Erm, right.

Anyway, the Kinect (much like the similar devices which will doubtless follow hot on its heels) isn’t inherently nasty… but it does have the capability to be misused in Orwellian ways. Which is why I’m always glad to see clever hacker types reverse-engineering drivers for proprietary hardware; knowledge is power.

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5 Responses to “Kinect: the Big Brother peripheral?”

  1. Martin McGrath says:

    I wouldn’t worry about Kinect sneaking into people’s home, at least in the UK. I just won one and it has arrived. We live in a pretty big house by UK standards and frankly we’d have to build an extension to play it.

  2. Chad says:

    Kinect + Facebook = Zero privacy/stolen everything

  3. ConfidentlyDubious says:

    I wonder whether it’s naive of Microsoft to speak openly about such plans without expecting public outrage, or it’s naive of me to think that any such outrage will occur.

  4. Stimpy says:

    When execs say this kind of shit, which doesn’t have any grounds in reality, it is just because they think asshole investors will eat it up, not necessarily because they have any actual intent to do it. The fucking thing can’t actually track more than two people, anyway. The biometrics info is not that detailed and they would never get away with just sending images back somewhere. In terms of privacy implications, this thing is not much more dangerous than any other camera anywhere.

  5. Stimpy says:

    In addition, this kind of targeting could only really be based on who is or isn’t signed-in, which is already happening anyway. The only thing Kinect does is automatically sign you in instead of having to do it with a controller. It’s not like Kinect is going to look at your wife and say, “I SEE YOUR UPPER ARMS ARE PRETTY FLABBY, PERHAPS YOU SHOULD BUY A COPY OF KINECT SHAKE WEIGHT FITNESS PRO!”