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CaimDark avatar 6:28 AM on 05.25.2013  (server time)
Xbone Privacy Concerns Are a Very Big deal, Not a Footnote

Following the reveal a few days ago, many gamers quickly made up their minds and said a very loud collective NO THANKS. I'm not going to beat the dead horse and write yet another piece about why most of us want nothing to do with it (hint to journalists who haven't been paying attention: it's not because no games were shown). Instead, I want to talk about Xbone and (lack of) privacy. That part didn't get nearly as much bad press, but I think it should. That is a very big deal, and even if the Xbone was the second coming of the SNES or Playstation 1/2, it might still be enough to keep me away from the system entirely.

I'm sure some supporters will dismiss such concerns as "paranoia", deride critics as "conspiracy nuts", and point out that our data is already collected, shared and sold in myriad ways anyways. Well, I'm having none of it. It's a very big leap from Facebook sharing my likes with advertisers to a camera connected to Microsoft's servers watching me in my sleep, even in the dark, and listening to everything I say, and that raises all sorts of questions.

Imagine the possibility of visual DRM. If there are more people than allowed by the "license", or if the "wrong" person is trying to play/watch a movie, the software might be blocked. Now consider that Microsoft already filed a patent to do just that all the way back in 2011. Obviously, patents are filed all the time, and most never turn into actual things, but it shows Microsoft clearly considers such a scenario. When questioned about it, note Microsoft's "clarification": "Microsoft regularly applies for and receives patents as part of its business practice; not all patents applied for or received will be incorporated into a Microsoft product. The new Kinect is listening for a specific cue, like 'Xbox on'. We know our customers want and expect strong privacy protections to be built into our products, devices and services, and for companies to be responsible stewards of their data. Microsoft has more than 10 years of experience making privacy a top priority. Kinect for Xbox 360 was designed and built with strong privacy protections in place and the new Kinect will continue this commitment."

Read between the lines, and nowhere does does it say Microsoft can't/won't do it. The response basically amounts to "we're not necessarily going to do it, but if we do, you can trust us to do it right". Mind you, we're talking about the same company that is quietly re-engineering Skype to allow government agencies to eavesdrop on conversations. Also, mind the part about Kinect only listening to a specific cue, like 'Xbox on'. What it means is that Microsoft swears Kinect will only register what you say after the specific cue, but obviously, it can't pick up the cue unless it listens to everything.

Visual DRM would be freaky in itself, but it's not even close the worst scenario. There are all sorts of ways things could go very, very wrong. It's easy to forget at times, but Microsoft is not an electronic entity. Behind the hardware, software, websites and gadgets are... real people. Shocking, I know. What's to stop a disgruntled Microsoft employee from uploading video of you having sex, or just "enjoying" the video himself? Sure, Microsoft will have a system in place to prevent that. But systems fail all the time, because systems rely on people, and there is  no such thing as a flawless person.

The mainstream media has also picked up on that. Time has an article about it, and one of the questions they raise I hadn't even considered yet is hacking. Imagine a daredevil hacker gaining access to hundreds or thousands of audio and video of your home life. Now imagine a criminal organization or hostile government gaining access to detailed recordings of the home lives of millions of people. Again, that will be derided as paranoia, but anyone who doesn't understand that ANYTHING can be hacked is just plain naive. And even in a fantasy scenario where Microsoft somehow developed a hacking-proof system, it still wouldn't eliminate the threat entirely. The same information could potentially be obtained by bribing/threatening high-level Microsoft employees with access to it. And that is just a sample of the risks.

The biggest risk is not even the Xbone itself. The biggest risk, I believe, is that once the technology is in place and people have been trained to welcome Xbone-like devices into their homes, there is nothing to stop companies and governments to take away what little of our privacy we have left, and using that power to squeeze money/influence our lives in ways we can't even imagine right now.

 I recognize that privacy in the age of the Internet, ubiquitous tech gadgets, terrorists and paranoid governments will never mean what it used to mean, and I accept that. Heck, I love it. My life literally wouldn't be possible without it. The benefits of a connected world far outweigh the risks. But there are limits I am not willing to cross, and in an ideal world, no one should. A recording device in my bedroom that cannot ever be completely disabled is a huge red flag. I can't stop people from supporting the spread of this kind of thing but I can write a little blog to raise awareness and do what I can to scare away anyone I know that might be even mildly interested in getting Xboned... though right it sure doesn't look like I'll have to work very hard!

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