The lights are on
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Around a week ago, Microsoft opened up their press conference and showed the Xbox One to the world. For many, this reveal was an exciting moment. The end of the press conference left many others with a churning in their gut. My feelings about the Xbox One in particular are for another blog, although I will talk about how some of its features worry me from a privacy standpoint. About the next generation of consoles as a whole, I feel a bit weird. It hasn't really hit me yet, the fact that the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii are about begin their journey into video gaming history.
What do I think about the next generation of gaming consoles? I'm excited, sure. But I'm also a bit disturbed. These consoles are powerful, sleek, and...pretty destructive to a gamer's privacy. What's more, I don't think people care. As long as it plays games, who cares whether or not it knows who you are, where you live, what you like. Is "privacy," the notion that you have a right to keep parts of your life to yourself, something of the past? If so, I'm not sure if I want to be part of this next tech wave.
Yes, you in the back?
Other technologies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have already killed people's privacy? Why, yes, you're absolutely correct. Facebook is under constant scrutiny by nations and governments around the world for its use of its members' private information; Google is like an all-seeing eye of computing power, able to tell whomever's curious enough where you live; Windows has been hacked countless times since its inception and wide use, and countless more victims have had their credit card, professional, and private affair information stolen from them.
But for years, gaming has been a bit more aloof from that. Until the PS3's mass identity-theft fiasco of a few years ago, theft of hundreds of thousands of people's credit card information over a gaming console's online service wasn't something that'd happened often. The Xbox 360 has yet to be exploited in such a way, and the same goes for the Wii (which, let's face it, is much too cute a console to be taken advantage of like that).
Still, gamers' anonymity has been largely protected. I can log into Steam or Xbox LIVE, and people will not know who I am unless they know me in real life already. With this next generation of consoles, this anonymity could go out the window.
Wii U is the only console out of the Big Three's Generation 8 that's already available to the public. Time will tell if this move helped Nintendo at all. Sales and success aside, the console is arguably the most private of the three. The Nintendo Network is N's answer to Xbox LIVE and PSN, but the amount of people who use it is completely eclipsed by its competitors' populations at this point. Being a new console, this makes sense. But it also means that hackers have even less of a reason to try hacking the service. As far as I know, there are no social services, like a connection to Facebook or eMail. The console does utilize a camera on its WiiUGamePads. However, unless it's being used, the camera remains off.
The Playstation 4 does a bit more than the Wii U to infringe on a gamer's privacy. It has the Playstation Eye, much like the Kinect for the Xbox One, and can be turned on or off at any time. It has social features. For example, the gamer can use Facebook and share their gameplay via the online social website, or the gamer can use their real name as their gamer profile name. However, these social features can be disabled at the discretion of the gamer. The PS4 does have a creepier aspect to it, however: its internal computer will guess what games you'll want to buy next, and try to advertise those to you. As far as I can tell, gamers will not be able to turn this feature off. Also, what happened to the PS3 could conceivably happen to the PS4, I hate to say. And if the system is hacked to the same extent as its predecessor, the Eye, Facebook information, and any other identity information the gamer put online, will be fair game.
And then there's the Xbox ONE. As I said in the intro to this blog, Microsoft's press conference performance and game offering isn't something I'll concern myself with here. When it comes to keeping gamers' anonymity safe, though, it seems like the Xbox ONE crashes and burns. Where should I start? Its most concerning privacy issue comes with its three Operating Systems. It has Xbox LIVE's OS, its Kinect OS, and its Windows 8 OS. Xbox LIVE hasn't had much of a problem with hackers since its inception on the original Xbox, but a PS-level screwup could still happen. If it does, say goodbye to all your private info. Kinect is like your very own personal living room spy: it can identify you when you come into its cone of vision just by how you walk, and will recognize your voice; differentiating yours from your friends'. It can even track your effin' heartbeat. Kinect's microphone, and often times its camera, have to be on at all times for your console to work. Since Kinect has its own OS, what hacker wouldn't like to target that, and be able to see into any living room they want in 1080p? Who says Microsoft wouldn't want to do that? And remember what I said about Microsoft's Windows OS having the highest number of hacking attempts of any other OS on the planet? Well, now that OS is on your console as well. I'll let you connect the dots there. Your profile must also be connected to the internet every 24 hours. You know, just so someone can keep tabs on you for some reason.
So there you have it: my conspiracy theories about how consoles will allow Big Brother to take away our children while we're asleep.
Seriously though, as games become more popular, so do the systems' OS for hackers. If, somehow, I get my Xbox LIVE account information stolen, I have to be concerned about my credit card info. If my Xbox LIVE account information got stolen on the Xbox ONE, I need to be concerned about my credit card info, my Facebook info, my Kinect's security, and/or my Windows OS security.
Why does technological progress have to involve me giving up my anonymity? In life, I have friends I can rely on, I play by the rules and I keep relations with people I may not even like, at the very least because I have a responsibility to be a dignified human being. Now, I'm not saying I don't want to be a good person; I sure as hell do. But why do Sony and Microsoft, Microsoft in particular, think that sacrificing anonymity for the sake of fun is necessary?
I have no idea. People can already talk to me via my phone, computer, console, mail, notes; there are at least that many ways or more to say something to me. Heck, I even have multiple profile names linked on my profile here on GameInformer. I'm already connected to the world. I guess I've just thought of gaming in particular as the one place I can retain some anonymity with the focus on having fun, no strings attached. If any of the console makers want my vote of confidence on a system, they should focus on making my identity safer, rather than dreaming up easier ways for me to tell other people I exist.