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Privacy and penny-pinching points of view about Xbox One

May 22, 20136 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Xbox One is ready to pounce and take over your living room, but plenty of aspects of Microsoft's new system are going to be painful to the wallet and to privacy.

Meet Xbox One, which some fans are calling a win, while others are underwhelmed and saying it’s a disaster. It goes after the TV watchers as well as gamers. Besides gaming, the Xbox One system “will allow users to watch live TV, make group video calls on the TV via Skype, and search the Web.” Microsoft boasted, “This is the beginning of truly intelligent TV.”

But there is a long list of unanswered questions and speculation fueling the online rumor mill. However, a pre-order page from online retailer Zavvi “has given a £399 price tag and a ship date of the 30 November.” It’s qualified with the disclaimer, “Release Date and Price yet to be confirmed by Microsoft.” When converted, that’s about $601.22 to $603.50, depending upon the currency converter.

All Xbox One games will be installed directly on the hard drive and won’t play off the CD. Here are some other Xbox One tibits from both a privacy and a penny-pinching point of view.

Xbox One non-replaceable hard drive

Microsoft’s Albert Penello, senior director of product planning, told Engadget that the 500GB hard drive that comes with Xbox One is not replaceable. “Hard drives in the Xbox One are non-user-serviceable, but Penello confirmed that the USB 3.0 port is there for external storage, which can be used for everything the internal storage can be used for.”

No backwards compatibility

Do you have a small fortune in Xbox 360 games? Too bad, so sad. Xbox One has an x86 architecture, so it “will not play your Xbox 360 game discs, nor will your Xbox Live Arcade games transfer.” Microsoft said your Xbox Live Gamertag and achievements associated with it will transfer over, as will “licenses for movies and music.”

Kinect is mandatory

Xbox One is worthless and will not function without a Kinect unit. Microsoft said the redesigned Kinect sensor “can process more than 2 gigabits of data per second.” The new Kinect 2.0 “camera records at 1080p, enlarging the sensor’s field by 60% and allow video-capture at 60 frames per second. The new Kinect is so sensitive that it can measure your pulse by monitoring slight changes in the color of your skin.”

Better tracking ability is part of the re-designed Kinect “improvements” and it “should actually be able to track the skeletons of up to six people even when they’re relatively bunched together.” It can also “tell when someone shuts one of their eyes; how many calories they’re burning; whether they’re smiling or concentrating or bored.”

Always listening

Xbox One will not require a constant connection to the Internet, but that Kinect connected to Xbox One is “always listening.” The Verge reported, “In fact, the new camera and microphone system is so sensitive to your presence, that Microsoft says the new Kinect can even read your heartbeat while you’re exercising, and recognize and process audio that’s personalized to specific individuals.” Xbox’s Marc Whitten said, “This is rocket science level stuff.” A Microsoft PR damage-control spokesperson clarified, “The new Kinect is listening for a specific cue, like ‘Xbox on’.”

Microsoft’s Phil Harrison told Eurogamer, “We aren’t using Kinect to snoop on anybody at all. We listen for the word ‘Xbox on’ and then switch on the machine, but we don’t transmit personal data in any way, shape or form that could be personally identifiable to you, unless you explicitly opt into that.”

“If you want privacy, we’ll give you modes that ensure your privacy,” Microsoft Jeff Henshaw said. “The system is designed to have Kinect be an integral part of the experience. It’s not the case where you’ll be able to remove the camera altogether. But you’ll be able to put the system in modes where you can be completely secure about the fact that the camera is off and can’t see you.”

Used games

While rumors were flying about Xbox One and associated fees to unlock and play used games, perhaps even full retail price, Larry Hryb, Xbox LIVE’s Major Nelson, wrote, “We have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail. Beyond that, we have not confirmed any specific scenarios.” He added, “Should you choose to play your game at your friend’s house, there is no fee to play that game while you are signed in to your profile.”

An irritated editorial on HotHardware asked, “Do you know why Microsoft hasn’t ‘confirmed any specific scenarios?’ Because it’s still trying to figure out who to screw over.” We do know that Indie developers can’t self-publish games on Xbox One and some developers are outraged and feeling sort of screwed.

Microsoft’s Jeff Henshaw told CNET, “Xbox One will support the reselling and used game market for Xbox One games. We have not announced details about exactly how it’s going to work, or how licenses are going to be exchanged.”

Xbox One to replace DVR?

Some people believe Xbox One could replace your DVR in the future. I don’t care if my DVR doesn’t have Xbox One’s “more than 5 billion (yes, billion) transistors and 8 gigabits of RAM, paired with a completely redesigned Kinect sensor that can process more than 2 gigabits of data per second and an updated controller with more than 40 design innovations.” My DVR isn’t always listening, and doesn’t come with snoop sensors and a camera to watch either, (even if you can setup privacy modes) so no, it won’t be replacing the DVR in my home.

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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.