This Thursday, November 22, Microsoft will release the third incarnation of the Xbox, its popular video game console. The Xbox One comes with all the hardware necessary to play the next wave of hyper-realistic games along with a few notable accoutrements, including voice activation, multitasking menus, and a built-in Kinect, a camera that allows physical interaction through motion tracking. The entertainment behemoth has been earning rave reviews, but a recent test video raised serious questions about Xbox One’s privacy issues. Coupled with daily reminders of NSA snooping, the idea of having a camera planted in your house that’s always on sounds a bit… creepy.
In the below, Microsoft Research video, a man tests Xbox One’s Kinect, a state-of-the-art sensor capable of shooting 1080p HD video (mostly for Skype chatting) and scanning a user’s body with 3-D mapping in order to fully immerse them in games. Even in complete darkness, Xbox One can read shapes and movements with pinpoint accuracy. But perhaps the camera is too accurate for a device that remains on 24/7 (one of the highlighted features is that the device can detect when you enter a room and bring up your preferences through facial recognition) and is always connected to the Internet. After posting the video on YouTube, Mark Wilson of Fastco Design discovered that the Xbox One’s eye is so sharp, it can see a banana in the test subject’s pocket. That’s what that is, right?
Wilson speculates that Microsoft and all the gaming companies breaking new ground in digital interactivity will soon have to devise algorithms to prevent this type of intrusion. Like TSA body-scanning, it’s not that greyscale pictures of a person’s penis will be captured and immediately blasted out to others that have no right seeing them, but that it could happen.
Imagine this scenario, fellow paranoids: You’re sitting on the couch with the guy/girl of your dreams. The night is escalating, things get steamy. Your Xbox One is on one side of the room. It’s watching you. And, really, who knows who is on the other end? In an age where 12-year-olds can hack the NSA, who’s to say that a crafty Peeping Tom wouldn’t tap into a random person’s Kinect camera to do a little fly on the wall spying?
With their next-gen Kinect, Microsoft has hit new heights of hands-free technology while opening the door for unthinkable games to be realized. They’ve also unleashed a beast that sounds a little scary. If you’re picking up an Xbox One, maybe keep it out of your bedroom.
Matt Patches is a writer and reporter living in New York City. His work has been featured on Vulture, Time Out New York, and The Hollywood Reporter. He is the host of the pop culture podcast Operation Kino.