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British spy agency looked into tapping Kinect feeds

Latest Edward Snowden leak says GCHQ intercepted Yahoo webcam chat images, considered similar spying with Xbox 360 tech

The UK's Government Communication Headquarters intelligence agency evaluated a program to spy on people through the Xbox 360's Kinect camera, according to a Guardian report. Citing documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, the site reports that the GCHQ had considered expanding a surveillance program called Optic Nerve, which was already mass-intercepting webcam images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo chat users and storing them.

A Yahoo representative told The Guardian the act was "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy."

The documents also discussed the potential to use Kinect for similar surveillance efforts, noting that the system created "fairly normal webcam traffic." Previously released documents had shown the NSA had already been looking into monitoring games like World of Warcraft and services like Xbox Live for intelligence gathering.

In the lead up to the Xbox One launch last year, Microsoft drew criticism for making the Kinect camera a requirement for the Xbox One to function. After consumers expressed privacy concerns, Microsoft reversed course on previous statements and said the system would still play games even when the camera was unplugged.

The company also downplayed concerns that Kinect would be used to gather information for targeted advertising. Microsoft's Xbox director of product planning addressed the issue, saying, "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."

A Microsoft representative responded to the Guardian report, saying, "Microsoft has never heard of this program. However, we're concerned about any reports of governments surreptitiously collecting private customer data. That's why in December we initiated a broad effort to expand encryption across our services and are advocating for legal reforms."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.