German commissioner highlights Xbox One privacy concerns

"The Xbox continuously records all sorts of personal information" says Peter Schaar

The technical capabilities of the new Xbox One have upset Germany's federal data protection commissioner Peter Schaar, leading him to call it a "monitoring device" in local press.

"The Xbox continuously records all sorts of personal information about me," Peter Schaar told Spiegel.

"Reaction rates, my learning or emotional states. The are then processed on an external server, and possibly even passed on to third parties. Whether it be deleted ever, the person concerned cannot influence."

Privacy issues around the console are something Microsoft has had to address from early on, but this is the first suggestion that it could face trouble on a political level. The Xbox One's built in Kinect has an always-on listening mode, ready to react to its users command even if it's turned off.

Microsoft's Phil Harrison has recently assured consumers that this won't mean their data is up for grabs.

"Microsoft has very, very good policies around privacy. We're a leader in the world of privacy, I think you'll find," he told Eurogamer.

"We take it very seriously. We aren't using Kinect to snoop on anybody at all. We listen for the word 'Xbox on' and then switch on the machine, but we don't transmit personal data in any way, shape or form that could be personally identifiable to you, unless you explicitly opt into that."

The Xbox One is due for release later this year, and has already faced separate controversies over its online requirements and its approach to second-hand games.

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Latest comments (20)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
Too bad for MS that general elections are coming up in Germany this year. Be afraid, do not leave your house, wait for further instructions, do not install the XboxOne chat roulette app.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 8 years ago
we don't transmit personal data in any way, shape or form that could be personally identifiable to you, unless you explicitly opt into that... with purchase of an Xbox Live gold subscription."


Seriously, though. The consumer is paying MS at every step for all these "benefits"... why should they get free data to potentially monetise?

It also really depends on what you consider "personal" data. If you're talking about reactions to movies and games and whatnot then that doesn't have to be personalised or linked to you... but it's still generated from you.
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Taylan Kay Game Designer / Programmer / Marketer 8 years ago
I think MS is seriously underestimating the creepiness of an enhanced, always-on kinect.
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Show all comments (20)
Jim Perry Programmer, head geek of indie studio Mach X Games 8 years ago
I think people are being overly paranoid.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
I think people are being overly paranoid.
Well, in this case, Germany are known to be very high on privacy battles... i.e. 10s of thousands every day people notably fought against Google's street-view initiative and there have been further antagonisms to government initiatives to monitor various 'things', even crime related.

I'm not the most paranoid of people but I think its pretty obvious why there are particularly high concerns about Xbox One, especially with this advanced always on camera sensing you in your own home.
Here is a quick fix for anyone worried about this... Don't plug in Kinect. Problem solved, now lets move on people.
Assuming there won't be any general functionality issues created, cool. To a great extent, it is down to the consumers to decide whether or not they buy into the new Xbox ecosystem or use Kinect, but consumers don't always have all the information, knowledge and so on when it comes to what data is being collected and how its being used.

The new Xbox will be one of the best monitoring devices ever created, with a powerful camera/sensor and access to all sorts of social network accounts. Rather than hoping hardware/software companies will do a good job, or asking the gamer to ignore half the features they have bought, I think its still important to ask questions - as discussed on how the device will monitor you and what happens to the data.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
@ Barrie
Here is a quick fix for anyone worried about this... Don't plug in Kinect. Problem solved, now lets move on people.
Odd... There's been so much misinformation regarding this, I'm not entirely sure, but there have been multiple reports of the XOne not working (or working in a very limited capacity) if the Kinect isn't plugged in. Can you point me to the article that states it can be unplugged and still work?

Wired: So as an example, if your dog comes in and somehow it knocks the Kinect down and breaks it, would you still be able to use the box if there was a particular game which did not use the functions embedded into the Kinect?

Harrison: In that situation, I have no idea. [consults with assistant] What kind of dog is it?
( )

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 28th May 2013 5:13pm

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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online8 years ago
People having no issues with this because they have "nothing to hide" won't mind that camera your local police department is setting up in your bedroom, right?

I don't mind Kinect for controlling the odd game when it works well (!), but scanning my living room for what I am wearing and what kinds of products I have nearby and then tailor ads and/or sell that data to other companies isn't something I'd really enjoy.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus8 years ago
In a sense, Barry's pithy comment does give us one option: don't buy the One if we don't want this (since it's likely that despite MS outright lying on a few occasions, the system will be bricked without it). That really is an honest solution; there's nothing saying we have to own the next console, and I wish some people who are complaining about it would exercise that fundamental right to not participate in paying a yearly fee for the privilege of having all of their interactions recorded and possibly disseminated for third parties.

Let's not forget: since 2010, Microsoft's Kinect TOS has explicitly said: do not expect privacy with this device. With the system always listening for input now, that means not to expect privacy *ever*. It's not hyperbole to call this an Orwellian nightmare.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
The "amusing" thing about this continuing debacle is there will indeed be people who use that Kinect as Microsoft wants them to. Those will be the die-hards that end up unintentionally or intentionally making ads for the company because they're all in, damn the privacy violating going on. Expect to see plenty of "Ooh, lookit me and my cool game room and cool friends!" videos soon enough after launch.

Granted, MS has basically created a "problem" they seem to want to solve so badly with this new console that as soon as they latched onto that infamous tweet from Carolyn Petit and tried to use it as a "SEE!, SEE! People REALLY NEED this console!" moment, I was hitting myself in the head with one of the broken 360's I still have here.
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Simon Dotschuweit MD SE / CTO, Dorado Games8 years ago
@Morville: You just made my morning with:
Harrison: In that situation, I have no idea. [consults with assistant] What kind of dog is it?
Thank you :)
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
If Microsoft wants to monitor me 24/7 they better be the ones paying me to have an XB1. Otherwise they don't get to see me running around my house naked. I have morals and I just can't allow myself to be seen that way....for free.
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts8 years ago
In a similar vein to Barrie's comment flip arounD to face the wall when not in use......or buy a PS4....
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Maybe it's all a grand social experiment designed to target exhibit insists and home vid enthusiasts, and thus by negative inference gather data on those who disdain being snooped on as the populatin mean
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Rafa Ferrer Localisation Manager, Red Comet Media8 years ago
While it would still be able to pick up audio, wouldn't blocking the cameras with any objects at hand do the trick for the XBone not to pick any video, at least while you're not actively and willingly using the Kinect?
Suddenly I'm not laughing at my couple friends who block their phone/laptop cameras with labels or such while they aren't using them and not calling them stupid dystopian conspiranoids anymore...

Maybe I'm just naive, but I don't think MS would do such a(nother) suicidal move... Don't know about the USA, but in Europe we would freak out at the implications indeed.
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Stefan Pettersson Specialist Consultant, Fat Tuna8 years ago
First; I am totally against the always on-thing. Give me a power off-button that works please. Or even better; let me choose if I want to connect Kinect or not.

Second; Why is this an issue now and with Xbox One + Kinect? Why didn't ANYONE react when Samsung, Sony, LG etc etc released TV:s with built in camera + microphone? TV:s that actually run third party apps and has ZERO SECURITY. Why didn't anynone react when laptops started coming with built in microphones + camera? And why ain't this an issue with mobile- and smartphones that actually can, and has been, hacked to listen in on the owner without them knowing? Or with tablets? Or with... get the point.

To me it looks like Peter Schaar is trying to score some easy political points.

But still, Microsoft; please let me unplug the Kinect physically from Xbox One. Please!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Stefan Pettersson on 29th May 2013 2:23pm

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Stephan Schwabe Multichannelmanagement, Telefonica8 years ago
The problem is Stefan, im paying for a service that uses my data to sell me more stuff. With X Box one like with the X-Box 360 i pay to get the right to se ads. Well and cant opt out.. Funny stuff..
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
You know all these features of the XboxOne would be ok, if you can choose to not use the ones you dont wanna use. Like voice control, kinect or online connection but they make it mandatory. And I have privacy concerns regarding this console. That alone is a deal breaker for me. i simply cant have a device that recognizes and can identify everything I do in my living room and everybody else, always online with a camera and all sorts of motion detectors, motion and face recognition sensors, it can even make a layout of my living room. I mean its scary and no Its a reason Im not even gonna buy it. I dont even want one in my house.

Seriously, I just wanna play games and watch movies. 300,000 servers all managing and processing, collecting data... at least to me, its scary.
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lets remember xbox isnt always in the living room, for example- my extended family I think 1 is in a living room like 7 are in kids bedrooms. Talk about creepy factor. Xbone is not welcome here

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 29th May 2013 10:46pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
As I predicted, some folks DO want their privacy after all. I don't think the new Kinect allows you to cover it or turn it around, as it can see much better in the dark than the last model and as noted on a few tech sites, is SUPPOSED to be able to track usage by seeing who's in the room.

Of course, if MS were a lot more informative at that announcement less week, we all wouldn't be guessing so much pro or con the new system.

THAT said, I'll bet you a penny that we should indeed expect to see an onscreen "error" message if the camera is disconnected or blocked that goes something like this (save this quote for future reference, I say):

Error # -----
Sorry, your KINECT cannot detect any movement in the room. The camera view has been obstructed or KINECT has been deactivated. Please note that proper usage of the Xbox One requires a KINECT that is connected to the console and has an unobstructed view of an entire room.

Please turn off the Xbox One console, reconnect KINECT/remove the obstruction and power on the console again.

Or something like that...
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Normally id cover it up the camera with a piece of paper or something, but i dont think it will allow even that. It still can record other pieces of information, like sound and movement. Like I said, I dont want a device in my room monitoring everything me or my family does and thats always connected to the internet.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 30th May 2013 2:35pm

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