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Microsoft Kinect ads can watch you while you watch them

May 16, 20125 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Do you fast-forward to skip as many commercials as possible when watching TV via a DVR or On Demand? Microsoft hopes to change all that by offering Kinect-powered interactive commercials called NUads that will watch you as you watch the ads. And if you have Kinect, lucky you, it's coming to your living room before summer.

Do you watch commercials or do use that timeslot to run to the restroom or to the kitchen? Do you fast-forward to skip as many commercials as possible when watching TV via a DVR or On Demand? Microsoft’s new Kinect-powered interactive commercials, called NUads for Natural User Interface Adverstisements, have the potential to change all that.

According to CNET’s Declan McCullagh, Microsoft manager Lyn Watts stated that advertisers can “go after the holy grail – the living room” with Kinect Nuads. Whether you like the idea of TV ads watching while you watch the advertisement or not, Microsoft’s Kinect interactive NUads will “begin rolling out in late spring.”

“How many people are in the living room? Are they taking any action based on the advertising they just saw?” Watts said. “Can we watch the customers’ reaction, and if we can, do we have the capability of showing a different ad, or the same ad, depending on what the reaction was?”

The Kinect privacy policy states, “Kinect can record speech data, photos and videos” and “collects and uses body recognition data.” But Microsoft told CNET, “With respect to privacy, Xbox 360 and Xbox Live do not use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes and NUads is no exception.”

Indeed, Microsoft clarified in a follow-up statement emailed to Network World that the company has not announced plans for Xbox 360 or Xbox Live to use information capturted by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes. A spokesperson reiterated that “Microsoft has strict policies in place that prohibit the collection, storage or use of Kinect data for the purpose of advertising,” and that the presentation was meant to discuss the potential for consumer-interacted advertisements, in which a user may request retail information from the Xbox and would receive advertisements in response.

“To be clear, the presentation at the PII conference did not announce targeted advertising features. The focus of the presentation was the future of advertising and the potential privacy issues managers at other companies must consider as technologies such as Kinect transform the industry,” the Microsoft spokesperson said.

Still, Eurogamer pointed out Watt’s statements about “how NUads may tailor advertising using data gathered by Kinect” contradict Microsoft’s statement about privacy.

“With a NUads-based commercial, TV advertisers will be able to listen in on a TV audience at home via a microphone, or perhaps view the home audience via facial recognition or video,” reported Neowin. “Of course, all of this conjurers up a ‘Big Brother’ future where we would be spied on while watching TV commercials.” Indeed much like the Samsung smart TVs that watch you, the Kinect NUads bring to mind the spying TV sets that George Orwell foresaw, televisions that watched viewers on behalf of Big Brother.

Immediately after announcing Nuads last year, Microsoft’s Mark Kroese wrote,”In this case of NUads and Kinect, I’m here to say that it will change television as we know it-forever.” At that time Seattle Pi skeptically asked, “Would you actually interact with ads?” Whether Kinect-enabled advertising will prove “irresistibly interactive” or yawnsville to viewers remains to be seen, but Gizmodo called the NUads “awful” and that when it comes to interacting and sharing TV ads, “literally no one has ever wanted to do that.”

NUads will incorporate voice commands as Kroese had suggested. Xbox Tweet and Xbox Share are about social media interaction. Xbox More will “request additional information and/or a discount coupon to be sent directly to your email inbox.” Xbox Schedule will send calendar reminders. Xbox Near Me finds a local retailer and sends you “a text message with the location.”

Although this “Rich TV” Kia advertisement campaign launched through Xbox Live was slightly different, users “who chose to interact with the Kia creative on Xbox LIVE spent an average of 298 seconds (essentially five minutes) exploring Kia advertising content.” NUads will also allow marketers to offer interactive Kinect-friendly ads on the Xbox 360 dashboard; who knows, it might be a smashing success?

When we considered if Kinect long-term privacy issues would be daunting, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Kinect could make “interactivity in the living room available to everybody” and that fits in with Watts’ plans for advertisers to “go after the holy grail” of invading living rooms. This NUad demo video currently has 5 likes and 32 dislikes, but this one from AdWeek claims when NUads technology is embedded on top of a regular 30 second commercial, “we are able to move consumers further down that purchase path.” And if you have Kinect, lucky you, it’s coming to your living room before summer.

There are tons of awesome Kinect hacks for all kinds of purposes. While Razorfish’s KinectShop seems cool, allowing a person to shop and virtually try on clothes via augmented reality, it’s a choice to shop. You do not have to interact with the NUads, but it seems skin-crawling creepy to me that the Kinect “viewing police” will be watching you while you watch commercial advertisements.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.