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Daily Reaction: Out of Control – Fears Over Privacy Strike the Xbox One & PS4

May 23, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

1984

With the PS4 set to get an Eye and the Xbox One to get a Kinect Two, Daily Reaction’s three hundred and sixty staff members, Seb and Dan, discuss whether inviting big brother into your living room is a good idea.

Q: The internet is up in arms about the Xbox One’s new Kinect. Why? Can a games console infringe on your privacy?

Seb: If you want to use the ‘games’ console, you need to have the Kinect 2 plugged in and, even if you switch off your One, it’ll remain in a low-power state listening to what you say. The reason why it does this, Microsoft claims, is that you’ll be able to simply say “Xbox on” and it should turn itself on… without having to first get the controller that you’ll be using to game anyway. While this feature sounds interesting and useful for the morbidly obese, it requires the camera to analyze everything you are saying within its ‘earshot’. Said camera can also distinguish faces, see in the dark and track your emotions. All while connected to the internet and Microsoft’s servers.

Only last year, Google was lambasted by a major tech company for ‘reading’ your emails and using keywords to provide ads. The company called Google’s actions immoral, greedy and nosy, going as far as to create the following video highlighting what they saw as something that infringed on personal privacy:

 

That company was Microsoft.

Microsoft has recreated the Gmail man, except this time he’s squatting on top of your TV watching you dress.

Dan: I think that, as technology moves forward, the capabilities of the average gaming console will move further and further away from they were originally designed to do – play games. Dating all the way back to the Sega CD playing music CDs, gaming consoles have started becoming a multimedia device resembling a PC. This means that, at some point, the ability for these devices to be abused is going to become a concern. And that point seems to be now.

As Sony have been hacked, and there’s today’s rather unlikely rumor of Xbox Live being hacked, more attention needs to be paid to personal security and our ability to control the information we are willing to share. This is why the mandate from Microsoft’s Xbox One console forcing consumers to regularly connect to the internet, as well as the Kinect 2 always having to be connected, is striking so many chords with people. This is not to say that there are going to be issues with privacy, but that taking away the ability for consumers to control or limit their freedoms is a cause for concern.

Q: Microsoft has the Kinect 2, but will Sony go down the same route with the PS4Eye?

Dan: Thankfully, I don’t think Sony will take the same approach with the PS4Eye as Microsoft is with the Kinect 2. Sony has been developing cameras for their platforms long before the PS3 era, and have never seemed to push the platform all that much, as it has always seemed a bit niche and has never been a runaway success. The reason why Microsoft has been more adamant about pushing the Kinect as a household item is that they have already invested $500 million on simply advertising the accessory, and they went head-first into the market.

As Sony have yet to go into specifics of whether the PS4Eye will always have to be connected to the system or not, it does leave a bit of room for worry as we move forward. But, given the investment already put in by Microsoft, and the failure of Nintendo to recapture an audience that was once rabid about motion controls, it is unlikely that we will see Sony place so much focus on camera integration for their PS4. This is also true because Sony have had a number of financial troubles over the years, and for them to take such a huge risk in such an unknown and highly competitive market could bring down one of the most promising divisions of the company.

Seb: Yeah, I don’t think we’ll see such a large camera focus from Sony next gen. And, before PS fanboys start using that statement to proclaim how Sony is so wonderful, the main reason the Eye won’t have that much of a focus is because Sony hasn’t been able to invest the same amount of resources into their camera technology as Microsoft. They aren’t as far along with their camera-console integration, because they didn’t have something like the Kinect this gen to use as a stepping stone, or the same confidence in being able to produce a surefire hit product (unlike the Guinness World Record-selling Kinect).

But SCE has been hiring a bunch of camera, voice recognition and camera UI technicians. They also have shown an interest in privacy-infringing ideas through patents, such as recording your emotions, clothing and race, or storing your DNA, fingerprints, iris and voice pattern. Heavy Eye integration with the PS4 is clearly something they want to do, and they likely wouldn’t flinch at doing something similar to Microsoft.

The reason why I’m not too concerned that Sony will force the Eye upon you is simply that they suck at peripherals outside of their main console – just look at the Move and Vita. It’s sad for those extra devices, but for the core console gamers it means Sony ends up ultimately catering to them. Ineptitude is our safety net.

Q: What does this mean for the future?

Seb: We’re all screwed. Every day we invite more and more cameras into our home, each one with better lenses, smarter brains and harder-to-disconnect internet abilities. It’s naive to think that these things can’t be hacked, or that everything you say isn’t being analyzed for ‘quality assurance’ reasons.

There’s not much we can do other than not openly embracing moves like this, or, if you really want to do nothing, create a petition.

Dan: The funny thing, I was watching Seb type that response over Google and agree – we are already fucked.