Xbox One Kinect Privacy Concerns? Turn It Off

Responding to worries that an always-on Kinect sensor recording camera and audio information would be a threat to user privacy, Microsoft offers a simple solution: the ability to turn the Kinect off.

You are in control of the Kinect, not the other way around. That's the message Microsoft is trying to get across in "Privacy by Design: How Xbox One and the New Kinect Sensor Put You in Control." The damage-controlling article explains that while the Xbox One functions better with Kinect enabled, it doesn't have to be that way.

Unless utilising a game or feature that requires the sensor, Kinect can be paused. When not using your Xbox One, it can be turned off with a simple "Xbox Off" voice command. In off mode, the system listens for "Xbox On", and that's it — and even that functionality can be disabled.

And hey, just because using the Kinect is incredibly convenient and fun and awesome and you should totally do it, you can use your stupid old controller or a remote instead.

I don't know about you guys, but my fears are assuaged.

Here are all the soothing bullet points.

  • You are in control of what Kinect can see and hear: By design, you will determine how responsive and personalised your Xbox One is to you and your family during setup. The system will navigate you through key privacy options, like automatic or manual sign in, privacy settings, and clear notifications about how data is used. When Xbox One is on and you’re simply having a conversation in your living room, your conversation is not being recorded or uploaded.
  • You are in control of when Kinect sensing is On, Off or Paused: If you don’t want the Kinect sensor on while playing games or enjoying your entertainment, you can pause Kinect. To turn off your Xbox One, just say “Xbox Off.” When the system is off, it’s only listening for the single voice command — “Xbox On,” and you can even turn that feature off too. Some apps and games may require Kinect functionality to operate, so you’ll need to turn it back on for these experiences.
  • You are in control of your personal data: You can play games or enjoy applications that use data, such as videos, photos, facial expressions, heart rate and more, but this data will not leave your Xbox One without your explicit permission. Here are a few examples of potential future scenarios:
    • A fitness game could measure heart rate data to provide you with improved feedback on your workout, allow you to track your progress, or even measure calories burned.
    • A card game could allow you to bluff your virtual opponent using your facial expressions.
  • You can use other inputs to control your games, TV and entertainment experiences: While it’s faster to find what you’re looking for using your voice and gesture commands with Kinect, you can use a controller, your remote controls or your smart devices instead. And you can use all of these devices when Kinect is paused.


    If I can turn it off, does that mean I can unplug it? Because quite frankly, if I can't, that means it cannot truly be turned off.

      If you read the article, it can't even be turned off. This is the same crap they were trying to push a week or 2 ago, that we can turn Kinect off with the console....big deal, there's a powerpoint for that.
      Only new thing here is the ability to 'pause kinect' which they say you can do while the Xbox is on (unless in a game that needs kinect) but they don't really detail the pause, instead skipping over it to talk about 'Xbox off.' Makes me think the pause won't be as useful as it sounds.

        "I don't want this thing listening to me all the time. The potential for abuse is too high."
        "Well just turn it off! Then the only thing it'll be listening for is a specific phrase?"
        "How will it know when I've said that phrase?"
        "Well... it's listening for it."
        "And what did I just fucking say about listening?"

        Someone needs a visit from the Chair Leg of Truth.

          Ahhh the chair leg of truth... not even alien love messiahs can ignore it's power...

        "When the system is off, it’s only listening for the single voice command — “Xbox On,” and you can even turn that feature off too."

        So if that's the only thing it's doing and you can turn that OFF too, then the Kinect is OFF. How is that hard to understand?

          The only thing you turn off is Kinect's ability to respond to your commands. It does NOT stop it from listening to or watching you. In short, you can tell Kinect to stay silent, but you can't tell it to go away.

      Since nobody bothers to do any actual info hunting and MS is sucking at giving up info at the moment...
      Seamless Connectivity – Each controller uses a combination of invisible reflective technology and LEDs to send a patterned infrared signal to your console and Kinect sensor. Not only does this make pairing the devices seamless, but it enables Kinect to associate the controller with whoever is holding it. This introduces innovative experiences, such as player switching, where a split screen display can swap positions on the TV if users change seats on the couch.
      You need the Kinect installed because its not just there to "spy" on you as the tinfoil brigade would have you think but for actual functionality.
      It might sound like something you can live without but if they cant bake this stuff into the console for everyone its almost impossible to implement it well.

      Anyone worried about the Kinect being used as a spying device should realise that
      1) Microsoft would be utterly dead as a company if it did that. It is completely illegal and wouldn't be that hard for someone to capture the outgoing data to prove it. They would NEVER risk doing this.
      2) Someone somewhere would have had to program it into the code and then have nobody else know about it. Its a little bit hard to have a conspiracy on that level without someone going "this is a bad idea" and leaking the info.

        Because noones ever done anything like that for marketing purposes ever? If you think they wont thats amazingly naiive.

          It's invariably devastating to the company in question when it happens. If MS had such a functionality, outright denied it repeatedly, and then it was found out, they would be effectively out of the console market - it's exactly the kind of story that would hit the mainstream and even chase of the media centre buyers - and the criminal and civil liabilities would be astronomical. I wouldn't say that's a guarantee they won't do it, because the whole launch has been one proof of stupidity after another, but that would be an entirely different magnitude of stupid.

          And it would get found out, and MS know it. Even if they managed to keep it silent internally, it would likely show up in the basic work of hacking the console, let alone the people who will specifically go looking for it thanks to the controversy.

            Research SONY and their putting spyware on their music cd's years back. Companies try all sorts of stuff in the hopes they won't get caught out.

              Oh, I remember the rootkit funtimes. Ugh. But there's a difference between trying dodgy stuff and being evasive about doing so, and trying dodgy stuff while outright denying it. Not to mention a different technological/media landscape now vs. then.

              I'm not saying it's impossible. It would just be an unprecedented level of stupid, and given the kind of scrutiny they're getting, I think even if they originally planned that kind of functionality, they'd write it out come release time. I think sony tried it because they were hoping to sneak it in and/or no-one would care. MS knows they won't be able to hide, and plenty of people will/do care.

                Unprecedented level of stupid and Microsoft are fairly synonymous these days...

                  im sure if it was true and they did get found out, they could just as easily say "oh it was for a matter of national security and we legally had to deny doing so", and the NSA and FBI would back them up so they could continue to do their high return data mining. and due to the high amount of over patriotic douchebags will think thats all right and sure the sales would suffer slightly but wouldn't make anywhere near enough of a dent to become a problem

    Can I buy an Xbox without Kinect? Kinda like when they did that lame 360 "arcade" console that nobody bought? Except this time everybody would buy it?

    ...and by everybody I mean nobody for all other reasons.

      No you can not. The Kinect is a 100% required with the XB1. I think the console would give you errors if you unplugged it.

    Every Xbox1 announcement has been a disaster. They should just reinvent it as a games rental machine.


    it’s only listening for the single voice command — “Xbox On,”

    That is a bit of a contradiction.
    If it's listening for "Xbox On" then it is listening in general. It has to process every word said so that when "xbox on" is said, it will actually turn on...

      Yes, tinfoil hat brigade, the Kinect can now speak english fluently, just like HAL9000!

    Is it even worth giving attention to the XBone anymore?

    From what I can see, Microsoft have basically knocked themselves out of the next gen console race before even getting to the starting block.

    All in all, the statements from Microsoft clearly show they have caved to the greed of publishers and are helping them break into our households.

    What publishers need to accept and stop resisting is their role (monetary wise) ends at the point of sale (be it online or via a bricks and mortar storefront). The only time a publisher can step in is if there are signs of piracy and even then it should be done via the laws of the country where the suspected offence took place.

    They cannot be a law unto themselves and they have no right to invade our privacy and attempt to block legitimate consumers from selling off games they no longer want.

    This business of blocking used sales is all about greed and the claim that second hand sales causes harm is completely unfounded. See the following cases in point:

    * It was once said that libraries would kill the publication industry. No, it's alive and very well.

    * It was also said that cassettes would kill the music industry. We are now on to iPods, etc, and its still there.

    * It was even said that home media would kill Hollywood. Another industry still here.

    * Finally, attempts and fear mongering about second hand sales is actually hold hat!

    Nintendo tried to block this sort of thing back in the 80s and 90s, though mostly focusing on the rental industry. They were told then to stop being childish and I do not see why it should be any different now. And guess what? Despite second hand sales being around for so long the industry is still here!

    Second hand sales are a part of commerce in any industry. Nothing is ever printed forever. The hardware needed to play (or consume as the term goes) the item wears out over time.

    Thus second hand sales are actually good for commerce as they grant access to the medium even if new stock is no longer available.

      Isn't the internet killing off those industries????

        No, but the producers are becoming complacent.

        Back in the cartridge and cassette days, significant focus was on bug testing because once the product was out there was not way to fix it other than a massive recall.

        Initially the Internet was a good idea because it allowed for updates to be pushed out. But now, it is being abused where a game is pushed out and patched months later via updates when they should have fixed it in the first place.

          Increasing technology and internet capabilities are significantly impacting those industries though. I'm the only person I know who still buys cds (Just never bothered finding torrents out of laziness), I know more and more people buying eBooks over real books which pisses me off and don't download films unlike the vast majority of people I know (though they are only downloading Games of Thrones from what I know). Though this is off topic.

          I've heard people complain about these games being pushed out and patched up later to fix bugs that should of been sorted out before selling the product but I personally have never had that issue. Except in anything by Bethesda, but I think the bugs make their games more interesting.

    so what's the point of packaging it into every Xbone unit sold? Will they quickly find out that most gamers simply will turn it off and it'll end up as a big waste of money? Other than dancing games and the occasional on-rails game, motion control is nowhere near replacing a traditional controller. I know Sony is putting an Eye camera into every unit as well but they don't seem as expensive to make and aren't pushing it as a major part of the PS4 (probably because they know it is)

    If you want the Star Trek Holo-deck to become a reality; then having an always on, always listening device is a step on that path. It needs to be an integral part of the console in order to have the potential of being successful.

    Kinect & Move haven’t taken hold because they were bolt-ons to consoles that weren't originally designed with motion controllers in mind.

    What exactly are people really worried about, with an always listening device? I’d really like to know.

      Unless I am in a police lockup or in an airport, I do not see why I should have a always on listening device in my house.

        So your issue, is that you don't trust Microsoft to keep their word that these devices aren't spying on you. And to go further, you don't trust that its actually off unless its unpowered and unplugged.

        If I'm correct and you mistrust of Microsoft that much. I would assume you have the same mistrust for your phone or laptop manufacturer too. If not, what makes them exempt?

          To quote Yahtzee, you're one conspiracy theory short of a grassy knoll.

          But I'll bite ... once you provide the sources that monitoring happens out side places like the People Republic of China.

            Um...News of the World?

              Nice try. What they did was illegal and they got caught out big time.

              Do you have anything that won't shoot you in your own foot?

                Then next time ask for a legal example, don't blame other people for your lack of specificity, aside from which, whether it's legally done or illegally done an invasion of privacy would still affect you in the same way wouldn't it?

                You must have been living under a rock for the past decade. Warrantless wiretapping by US government agencies on a mass scale has been a widely known controversy in the United States, and in addition the widespread co-operation of business in monitoring ordinary citizens has been just as controversial, especially lately.

                For example, Verizon has been monitoring & assisting the US government to monitor literally tens of millions of people's phone calls lately.

                People who get all pissy and paranoid about Kinect listening for voice commands because "I don't want to be monitored!" need to wake the fuck up, because you're already being monitored, and not by gaming companies.

                  So what youre saying is they need to accept one more potential way of being monitored then? That kind of contradicts your point.

                  @weresmurf I'm saying that it's absurd to get all pissy about Kinect when there's no evidence of any kind whatsoever for claims that Microsoft will be monitoring people and.. well I have no clue what you think they would be doing with the data.

                  There's no evidence to support your claims. What there IS evidence for, however, is the fact that mobile phones & landlines have been and ARE being used to monitor citizens.

                  You shouldn't be getting angry about conspiracy theories based on computer gaming peripherals, you should be getting angry about stuff that really is actually happening, like with your phones.

                  Last edited 08/06/13 3:56 pm

      an always listening device (with a camera) that must connect to the internet at least once a day... gee I don't know, maybe a gross invasion of privacy?

      the very fact that it's active if I do anything less then unplug it is worrying, why would it do that? this isn't like a TV where stand-by mode is just waiting for the power switch, this is a device capable of recording and transmitting everything it sees.

      asking whats wrong with that is like asking whats wrong with letting strangers install a camera in your bedroom if they promise not to watch the feed.

        So your phone has a microphone and you carry it almost every where and it's connected to the internet all the time.

        Why are you trusting your phone manufacturer/provider to not turn on your mic and recording and transmitting everything it hears?

        The privacy concerns are valid. I just feel it's hypocritical that these other potential listening devices getting a free pass on this subject.

          So your phone has a microphone and you carry it almost every where and it's connected to the internet all the time.

          You don't know that. And I seriously doubt that because if a phone is always on the Internet it would drain the battery quickly (regardless of model) and I am pretty sure the user would be angry when he or she sees the data usage.

          Why are you trusting your phone manufacturer/provider to not turn on your mic and recording and transmitting everything it hears?

          What do you think this is? 1984? Iran? China? The Cold War again?

          I just feel it's hypocritical that these other potential listening devices getting a free pass on this subject.

          I do know where you are getting these ideas from but here in Australia such act are illegal. We have strict communications acts to control this sort of thing (despite what is exhibited by our current Comminications Minister).

            So why can't you apply the same reasoning to the XBO? What makes it different?

              Don't play ignorant. You know why. What you are doing is borderline trolling and I am now out of 'feed'.

              As HAL 9000 (another good analogy for the XBone) said, "This conversation no longer serves any purpose."

                “You know why” doesn't answer my question. You haven’t really answered any of my questions.

                What I know is that you don’t like the idea of a microphone & camera sitting in your living room that is always on. But you are comfortable with walking around with a microphone and a camera in your pocket that is always on.

                I feel the potential for invasion of privacy is much higher with the later than the former.

                So what is it about the XBO, that makes it so different?

                  First and foremost is that a mobile phone actually requires a microphone for core functionality, xbone does not require Kinect for pretty much most of its functionality, it's just a handy extra and yet we're being asked to just accept it as being completely mandatory at all times and with a permanent connection to the internet.
                  Secondly the microphone function for your phone is actually off when it's not being used, if you could actually stop the microphone from listening and people were just paranoid that microsoft could switch it on remotely then you'd have a point.

                  Last edited 07/06/13 11:04 pm

                It appears everyone is paranoid. I'm not sure who is the paranoia troll out of you two....

                  I'm not paranoid. Who told you I was paranoid? :)

            "What do you think this is? 1984? Iran? China? The Cold War again?"

            This was what you said when he posited to you that the same thing could be done with a phone. It's pretty hypocritical of you to make this statement.

            Furthermore, given that Australia has "strict communications acts to control this sort of thing", there's no danger of a software company doing this either.

          my phone is never connected to the internet, ever.

          and the audio data has to be transferred from my phone through them in order for it to get to the other end, so it's a functionality that exists for a reason, the kinect not being turned off is completely arbitrary and serves no purpose.

          not to mention my phone can be turned off, like actually turned off turned off.

            my phone is never connected to the internet, ever.
            Good answer. That puts you in the minority. Most people aren't that away that their internet access is always on.

            the kinect not being turned off is completely arbitrary and serves no purpose.
            The purpose it serves is to listen for commands.

            I can see that you don't rate the Kinect high on usability scale. And for the 360, you'd be right. I have one, it's always on and I don't use it. Mind you, if it had the "Xbox On" command, or Wndows Media Centre Extender supported it, I'd be using it.

              Hey redXian,

              read this article and tell me what you think, you want an Xbox One, prepare for your data to be handed over to the USA government.


              minority you say? mind backing that up with some actual evidence, I'd wager that even of those that do use internet on their phone almost none of them connect it when they aren't actively using it.

              and that's not the purpose it serves, because you can disable that in the options, so in other words even when it's "switched off" it's listening, and I'd wager there's no way to tell the difference between "off with microphone" and "off", I'd be surprised if there was a difference at all other then the whole "xbox on" thing triggering.

              the point is you won't be able to tell if they're recording you or not, the device is designed so that it appears off while still being on, and that it will require internet connection. pray tell does your phone require an internet connection? does it force you to make a call at least once a day? my phone doesn't and it only sends information when it needs to.

    Won't leave your console unless you explicitly state?

    I remember going through the options of Kingdoms of Amalur and buried in a place no one would look was an option to send all data from the game to EA constantly. By default it was ON. Is this going to be the same thing? Default on with no obvious way to decline unless you look for it?

    So you can Pause it while in game, and you can disable start up commands, but they don't actually say how to turn it off...

      Unplug the console. MS have basically said that if you're worried about privacy concerns don't plug in their console.

      It says in the article that there will be an option available to turn it off, pause it, or turn it on. Ever noticed that your console has a system options menu? o_O

        You obviously havent read it because by no actual means can you really turn it off or disable it.

    "clear notifications about how data is used"? You mean they'll show users a long privacy statement full of legal terms that the average consumer can't hope to understand? A then claim that everyone who then clicks next must have read it carefully, and been able to give informed consent?

      Some of us actually read our EULA.

      Ignorance is no defence.

    In other words, don't buy it so you don't have to turn it on to turn it off in the first place.

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