Microsoft shoots down report of Kinect-based ad targeting

Xbox One maker working on multiple fronts to counter idea that camera will be used to gather marketing data

Thanks in part to a number of policy changes, there's no shortage of misconceptions floating around about the Xbox One. While the company hasn't always been aggressive about correcting them, one exception to that seems to be misconceptions about consumer privacy.

Over the weekend, Ad Age reported on an appearance by Microsoft corporate VP of marketing and strategy Yusuf Mehdi at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference in Phoenix. The story likened Xbox One to a "TV that watches you," suggesting the Kinect camera could be used to gather data about users, including how they react to ads on TV.

"It's early days, but we're starting to put that together in more of a unifying way, and hopefully at some point we can start to offer that to advertisers broadly," Mehdi was quoted as saying in the original report.

In response, Microsoft denied the report to All Things D, saying the quote was referring not to Kinect but to the connection between the Xbox One and Microsoft's SmartGlass mobile app. So much like developers can create a game that runs on the console and interacts with SmartGlass, advertisers might be able to connect their efforts between the two platforms.

Ad Age has since included Microsoft's clarification to the story, but added that marketers in the audience had also interpreted the remark to mean information harvested by the console could be used for market research.

"Microsoft does not have plans to target ads or content based on any data Kinect collects," the company told Ad Age, "and we will not in the future unless someone chooses to allow us to do so. Even then, we would give them a clear explanation of what is collected and how it will be used."

Microsoft is also using other channels to address privacy concerns. Xbox Live director of programming Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb put the word out on Twitter, saying the Ad Age story was in need of correction and adding, "We do not collect information to share or sell. You are fully in control of your personal data. Your privacy is important to us."

Last week, the company's director of product planning Albert Panello took to the NeoGAF message boards to clarify Microsoft's plans for Xbox One advertising. Panello acknowledged concerns that the Kinect could be used to identify users' engagement for the purposes of targeting ads. Panello said nobody in the company is working on that, and if such functionality were to ever be introduced, users would have control over it.

"We take a lot of heat around stuff we've done and I can roll with it," Panello said. "Some of it is deserved. But preventing Kinect from being used inappropriately is something the team takes very seriously."

This is not the first time privacy issues have arisen with regard to Xbox One and Kinect. Microsoft had originally said that the Kinect camera was required for the Xbox One to work, but after some voiced privacy concerns, the company said users would be allowed to disable Kinect functionality.

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Latest comments (16)

Rodney Smith Developer 4 years ago
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd4 years ago
Uh, Microsoft, if you could just not collect any data with the camera in my goddamn living room, that'd be great. Though, honestly, it matters to me little, as you scare me enough that I'd never put a camera operated by you in my living room...
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
@Nicholas: Not even if they make a special "Irving Klaw" edition Kinect just for you? ;^P
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 4 years ago
yet everyone is OK with the tracking device with a constant internet connection equipped with multiple cameras and the open microphone you carry everywhere in your pocket

Do you really think that people won't be monitoring the outbound traffic on the X1 and blow the whistle? Seriously, this is just another case of people not understanding what is being directed at a very specific audience, just like when the climate deniers were positive they found scientists cooking the books. It's just because it's Microsoft that people are pitching a fit.

I shudder to think what would happen if most people realized how much 360 and PS3 track everything you do right this minute. (here's a tip, it's a LOT). Virtually all modern games have extensive tracking of everything you do in them. If you don't like Kinect, don't hook it up. if you haven't noticed, and i personally think this is a tragedy, people don't give a shit even about the NSA thing. They don't seem to care if they're tracked whatsoever. I had one guy endlessly bitching about the invasion of his privacy, and you know what ended up being his real issue? He was worried that there would e photographic proof that he was the one torrenting movies, and not some random wifi hacker. The camera is not transmitting data without your permission, and if they tried it, especially with all these paranoid eyeballs on them, they're getting caught, and they know it, period. You can turn Kinect off in software, you can unplug the damn thing now, you won, deal with it. I'm mad that they are letting people unplug it at all, not only because it's going to compromise support of it, but because I already had a Kinect "quiet box" prototyped and ready for Kickstarter that was going to make me a fortune :)

This entire program is to drive things like 1 v 100, to enable them to do e-rewards marekting panels. Do you mind if they monitor you while they kick you say, the latest set of Call of Duty maps for an hour of watching ads and giving opinions? The fact that they can get such direct responses makes the data worth that much more.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 4 years ago
The NSA, GCHQ, Chinese, Russian & Israeli intelligence and many more can see what your webcam and phone cams see.
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Greg Knight Freelance Developer 4 years ago
All modern systems use telemetry to capture what the user is doing at any one time so things can be tweaked back at the mothership to improve the experience, but to suggest Kinect is sending out telemetry data is hilarious. It's a camera.
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Paul Shirley Programmers 4 years ago
@Jeff: people bother monitoring uplinks because companies keep getting caught, they really do seem to think they can get away with it.

Microsoft put itself in this position of needing to explicitly state what it is or isn't doing in such detail. Once you say 'take it or leave it' to customers you don't get to ask for blind trust from them. The backtrackageddon is far from over.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 4 years ago
@Greg The point I'm trying to make is that there's a lot of monitoring going on already that people don't seem to mind. Hell, Google reserves the right to read your email to better advertise to you. I never hear a word of complaint. We freely tweet and Facebook our way out of privacy. Your phone tracks you everywhere you go, and are typically quite insecure so someone could easily place of bugging program in it But the second it's Microsft doing it it's the grand evil and people will suddenly care. I can't wait to see all the interesting things the PS4 is sending out, especially when it comes to all that social network integration.

And yes, Kinect 2.0 is quite capable of sending out lots of information about your environment, it's not "just a camera". The bigger question is "why do you care" and "how valuable are pics of you naked eating Cheetos?" I remember how dance central was posting pics automatically. Man was that a mistake :)
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Nick Wofford Hobbyist 4 years ago
Jeff, it's because all of the Linux users of the 90's love writing "Micro$oft." It reminds them of when they got MS on the monopoly thing. Regardless of whether Sony would do the same thing in a heartbeat, M$ is the devil.

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd4 years ago
@ Jeff The fine print is really important. Google has no access to your information outside of the highest levels of the company. People at google can't just open your Gmail. No information is sent out of Google's servers. Google keeps everything on their side. So while Google tracks tons of information about their users, they are extremely transparent about where it goes (nowhere but their servers) and how it is paired with ads (directly on their servers, without advertisers ever receiving any part of your information).

Microsoft, as a general rule (not always), is not a particularly open company about what they track and how. You can check every permission every single Android app has, and disable any apps you don't want to have access to such features. You can even opt out of sending any location information to Google if you want from your phone, though again they clearly outline in their TOS that your information will stay private.

@ Nick I'm not connecting a Sony camera to my living room either...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 9th October 2013 8:26pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
Silly string solution: never go online with your console, I guess. Nothing I have at home other than my PC is connected online, I use my Vita and anything else with a wifi connection outside the home (yeah, I'm that antisocial gamer guy) and my cellphone is a still working N-Gage QD (mostly because I still need to finish Rifts: Promise of Power and it's the only system to play that on. MAN that game is hard as hell!)... ;^P
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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 4 years ago
Despite the risks, people tolerate a portable alwqys-on microphone with mutiple cameras and gps in their pockets because they like to have a smartphone and its functions. The trade off seems worth it to many. They dislike kinect because so far the perception is it's a gimmick that comes with the risk off massive data privacy issues.

It's like all those policies MS backtracked on: they simply were unable to communicate their value for the consumer (either because they screwed up the communication itself or possibly because there actually was little value to communicate, in which case they screwed up the product/service).
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David Serrano Freelancer 4 years ago
I'm sorry but this is the same company that repeatedly denied the 360 contained a fatal defect for 13 months after the launch. So I simply don't believe that Microsoft... a huge multinational corporation, doesn't plan to use Kinect to collect information to share and sell to second and third parties. I suspect one of their primary goals for the XBO was to create a massive data collection / analytics profit center.

And to be clear, "your privacy" is not important to any corporation. Maintaining the pretense they're not trying to monetize you in every way possible is what's actually important to them.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
@David Serrano - I completely agree with you.
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games4 years ago
considering the success of Kinect i wouldn't generalize by saying people dislike it. a particular vocal group of gamers that participates on various online fora does. but a very large amount of people enjoyed Kinect and many would even like to see it available as a PC feature too! even non gamers find it interesting and even fascinating when you explain what it does! I don't see anyone complaining for the camera that his Smart TV has as a standard nor the one on their laptop!

you mostly see people concerned when you specifically introduce them to the story that an evil person will always look at them, and record their daily activities at home which is a narrative cultivated by certain media groups. some on purpose, others as a bad joke... and some simply because breach of privacy "sells". very few out of real concern considering facts.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 4 years ago
@Yiannis better watch out, thinking rationally and making observations based on evidence tends to get you in trouble with those people :)

It's like the mirror image of HD DVD/Blu-ray more every day
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