Microsoft Eases Concerns (Slightly) About Being Spied On By Xbox One

Xbox_One_Console_and_ControllerAmong the major concerns about the upcoming Xbox One gaming console is that the device’s new Kinect sensor is so thoroughly integrated into the the system that it will always be on and listening/watching what users are doing. In response to consumers who would rather not be monitored 24/7, Microsoft has issued a statement that quells some concerns while raising others.

Part of the reason that some folks were so worried about the new Kinect is that Microsoft’s demos of the Xbox One made it seem like the device was always on unless it was unplugged. Users can wake the Xbox One with a simple voice command, but of course that voice command needs to be heard. That means that, even in some sort of “sleep mode,” the Kinect microphone would need to still be operating.

A rep for Microsoft has confirmed to Kotaku’s Stephen Totillo that there will be a proper power switch for the Xbox One, allowing users to turn the device off completely without having to pull the plug.

That being said, the rep provides no information on the power button and whether this will be an obvious, easily accessible switch, or if it will be hidden on the back of the device and require a straightened paperclip to get to it. Microsoft obviously intends for the Xbox One to be an always-on device — much like most new cable boxes and DVRs — so we can’t imagine that it will just have a standard power button like the Xbox 360.

The company also says the new Kinect will have “simple, easy methods to customize privacy settings, provide clear notifications and meaningful privacy choices for how data will be used, stored and shared.” Of course, that statement is not simple, clear, or meaningful, which to us implies that Microsoft is tap-dancing around the issue while it figures out how to address consumer concerns by the time the device launches.

As Totillo points out, Microsoft doesn’t really say anything about what the new Kinect is doing when the Xbox One is on and the sensor isn’t actively being used. Microsoft wants users to run their cable and satellite boxes through the Xbox One so that they will be spending time on the device even when not playing a game or using an app like Netflix or Hulu. Some people may want to use voice and gesture commands to scroll through cable listings or operate their DVR, others may not like the idea of waving and shouting at their TV while watching House Hunters International on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

On the Xbox 360, the Kinect is an add-on that can be unplugged without affecting the operation of the console (unless you’re playing a Kinect-specific game). If you don’t want to use it, you can just unplug it, or put a flap of paper over the lens if you’re creeped out about spying.

Until Microsoft confirms that you can turn off the Kinect sensor completely, some consumers are going to continue having an issue with the device.