Is Microsoft gathering your personal data from the Xbox One and selling it? Australia and Germany are concerned


As most of you probably know, Microsoft announced the Xbox One last week. It has a ton of new features including an always-on camera and microphone. Which is bringing up some privacy concerns. In fact it’s said that it could potentially gather personal data to be sold to the highest bidder. Which is not something you want. The director over at Civil Liberties Australia, Tim Vines, spoke with GamesFIX about this potentially privacy breach. And his thoughts aren’t rosy for Redmond.

Vines basically said that Microsoft has a lot to answer for with a product that can listen and watch everything you do. Tim Vines feels that Microsoft should be more upfront about what the Xbox One does with the data collected with the always-on features. He also says:

“Microsoft’s new Xbox meets the definition of a surveillance device under some Australian laws, so they need to be upfront and tell customers whether anyone else can intercept their information or remotely access their device.”

This isn’t just a problem in Australia as Berlin’s federal data protection commissioner, Peter Schaar told Spiegel Online that the Xbox One is nothing more than a monitoring device that’s disguised as a gaming console.

So is the Xbox One a major breach of privacy and security? How do you feel about the “always-on” features of Microsoft’s newest console? Let us know in the comments below!

[via GamesFIX]

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  • Ashraf

    [@JMJ] Let’s agree to disagree about the title.

    In regards to Microsoft, yes that is exactly what they should do. Why? Many reasons, but the most simple one being: public concern. People are concerned and want to know, and Microsoft should explain.

  • JMJ

    [@Ashraf] Words are powerful things, Ashraf, and should be used with care, especially by credible journalists. For example, there is a much different inference gained from the use of “sensationalistic” as opposed to “evil”. Simply by use of one rather than the other, a person can cast a particular light on a person or a topic. Just as you are attempting with your choice of words.

    And to what lack of transparency on Microsoft’s part do you refer? They have demonstrated in YouTube-available videos and elsewhere how their Xbox One works. Are you suggesting that they also should advertise what it DOES NOT do? That they should cast aspersions on their own product and Company by advertising that they will not break well established laws?

    Microsoft should not have to declare what they will not do any more than you or I should be expected to do. They, like you or I, should be presumed innocent until something CREDIBLY indicates otherwise.

    I have tutored at local junior and senior high schools for years. Because we know that there are despicable *people* who prey on children and youngsters, should I introduce myself to these schools’ principals as someone who will not molest the young people entrusted to my care? Should I volunteer my laptop for inspection to prove that there is no child pornography or bomb-making tutorials on it? The laptop COULD contain such filth but I should not be required to prove that it does not.

    The choice of words for this article’s title is tantamount to someone quoting “some source” as “cause” to ask the question: To whom might I sell pictures of the children whom I tutor? There is no source other than wild speculation and, in my case like Microsoft’s here, there is no cause. Therefore, the mere asking of the question is baseless and inflammatory.

    That was the intent of this article’s title: to be inflammatory and sensationalistic. Tabloid journalism, I’m afraid, couched in the self-exculpatory, plausibly-deniable cloak of “only” asking a question.

  • kevbo

    Re-read your own posts: most of the assertions you make and precautions you advise only prove to underscore the importance of the potential privacy issues brought up by the article.

  • Ashraf

    [@JMJ] You are right; the title of this article could be toned down. However, it is not as evil as you claim. It is intended to get people to read the piece; embellishment is a commonly used and accepted technique.

    Plus the title says nothing inaccurate. It asks a question, it does not assert anything. And the question asked is completely logical. There are plenty of concerns regarding Microsoft gathering data vis a vis Xbox One, and what do companies often do with such data? Two things: use it to improve their service and sell the data, either directly or via ads.

    In regards to your assertion that Microsoft would be unable to fool so many people: I say you are right. The fact that so many people are asking questions regarding data collection by Xbox One means Microsoft is not fooling anyone — they are just not being transparent. And that is what most people are calling for: transparency.

  • JMJ

    [@Ashraf] My original comment referenced the sensationalistic, inaccurate title of the subject article. Perhaps you will offer your opinion as to whether the question it asks is reasonable and based on facts shared in the article it refers to in making those claims.

    Simply and clearly, it does not. If you read/watch Microsoft’s description of how the system “listens”, then you will conclude that the so-called “privacy concerns” are a red herring, perhaps good for writing eye-catching headlines but little else.

    There is nothing anywhere that I’ve seen that even remotely hints at Microsoft gathering users’ information to sell. Perhaps, it behooves you, the editor-in-chief, to learn the source of the information that was relied on to make such a patently sensationalistic claim. Oh yes; it was made in the form of a question but “plausible deniability” has no place here, right?

    Further, much more technologically astute people than you or I or Alexander or Enrique have and will take this box apart damn near atom-for-atom. AppleTV folks will be the first and Google will probably be the second. Does anybody really believe that Microsoft has (or will) manage to slip an Orwellian device under the noses of millions of experts into your and my living rooms? The same people who root and jail-break phones and hack their original Xbox’s to play Sega games will be tweaking this device. Who REALLY believes Microsoft has or will or could fool ALL those people? Do you?

    Not only would any such fantastical perpetrators be sued into oblivion, they would also go to jail when they were INEVITABLY caught. Millions of pairs of eyes, many belonging to technology experts, would guarantee that outcome.

    Based on all this, I again assert that this is a non-issue.

  • Ashraf

    [@JMJ] Your comment proves exactly what the issue is with Xbox One: we dont know exactly what is going on. Microsoft needs to be more upfront about what it can and cannot do. Until then, all privacy concerns are not a nonissue.

  • JMJ

    [@Enrique] Yes, Enrique, I do disconnect any Internet-capable device from the Net when not actually being used. Many third-party security apps do that automatically after a period of inactivity, so, I am not the only one who considers this good, standard practice for enhancing security/privacy.

    There is a good, even-handed discussion of some of your, Ralph and Susan’s concerns here: Based on it and earlier reading, I insist that the Xbox One is NOT listening to “every word” when in standby mode and, in any event, *probably* is not being used by Microsoft to gather information for resale to anybody.

    I think that the prudent steps, or ones very similar, that we already take to make sure our computer microphones, cameras and keystrokes, as well as our portable phones’ microphones and cameras, are not waylaid for evil purposes will be sufficient to make certain Microsoft cannot use this cool device to spy on us, don’t you?

    If, as you say, the Xbox One is making otherwise complacent people think about protecting their privacy (security), then that is a good thing.

    As a flame retardant, I’ll forgo the “really”, this time. ;-)

  • Enrique

    [@JMJ] The difference between the Kinect and your car’s GPS, smartphone, laptop, and tablet is this:

    The others you use for specific use cases. They’re also not constantly not listening.

    The Kinect is sitting in your living room, always listening in a low-powered state. When it’s on, it can see you, listen to you, tell where you’re looking, see what emotions you have on your face. Heck, it can tell your heart rate from the pigmentation on your skin.

    Sure you could turn it off after you use it, but do you seriously power down your tablet, smartphone and computer after using them over privacy concerns? And what about when it’s on? The console won’t function without it.

    The Xbox One is making people that don’t normally think about privacy, think about it. I’m pretty sure we’ve never had such a ridiculously capable camera that’s meant to be an integral part of our media consumption before.

    I agree with you that the title could be toned down, but the privacy concerns brought about by the Xbox One are definitely not a non-issue. Really.

  • JMJ

    @Ralph @Susan – Neither is the Xbox One… necessarily. You can disconnect it from the Internet when it’s not in use, which you should do anyway with any Internet-connected device, including your computers. That’s security 101. And it saves on your bandwidth.

    Your car’s GPS, your cell/smart phone, laptop and tablet are capable of monitoring your movements and voice as well as sending information to The Bogeyman this article suggests Microsoft “may potentially possibly perhaps” be selling your information. Are you concerned about that?

    This is a sensationalistic article and a non-issue. I mean, really?

  • Susan

    Yeah JMJ, Ralph is correct, explain THAT

  • Ralph

    One problem is… all the things you mentioned are NOT connected to the internet at all times.

  • JMJ

    Despite the sensationalistic title of this article, there is nothing in the article you referred to in writing this one that suggest Microsoft is doing anything amiss.

    They COULD possibly, perhaps intend to, at a future date in a method yet to be described, conceivably attempt to record what you are doing and sell it to…. whom? Get real. :)

    In order for voice commands, such as “TV on”, for example, to be executed, of course the darned thing needs to be on and monitoring ambient sounds/signals. So does “The Clapper”. How else could that nice, little old lady turn off the lights without getting out of bed? So do my garage door opener and my thermostat and my room-light dimmers, all of which react to my proximity.

    This is just a bunch of politicians making a mountain out of a mole hill for the press and, perhaps, to increase their leverage as they go after Tech companies for more tax money.