"Eye spy with my little eye" may be the playful opening to a children's guessing game, but in recent weeks, that opening tag phrase recalls the angst that many players are feeling in light of the current concern over game console spyware. More specifically, the X-Box One's Kinect sensor has been on many's minds as an object of mistrust and suspicion it's an issue that brings many questions in the overreaching debate over privacy and security, whether in our games or our daily lives. The more we grow as a community, the more we share and communicate, but to whom? 

The issue is a hot-button topic that is close to my hear as a gamer. There are many that I respect that stand on both sides of the issue, yet while I cannot help but offend some, it has become only necessary that I feel I must say my own peace on the matter. I enjoy blogging about fun topics, but it is times like these that is its relevant to address the sensitive topics that hit us closer as consumers and people. I'd like to start out by saying--

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We Interrupt this Blog to Bring you the Following Message:


Video-games. We play them, we enjoy them, we want to share them with our friends. They're our entertainment as much as they are experiences to those who immerse themselves in them. How would you feel if you felt you were being misled about what you play them on? Indifferent, underwhelmed, nonchalant? Maybe. Betrayed, hurt, disenfranchised with the game company? Perhaps. Regardless of where you find yourself standing, the question remains the same: is there something wrong about the way our gaming technology is growing? 

You've been reading my blog for a long time now. For the past two weeks it's touched upon many topics, some humorous, some controversial. I now mark my 2nd week in the series touching upon the most divisive of all. I am as unapologetic for my opinions just as much as you might be for yours. Who am I? I'm someone like you. Someone who wants gaming to stay fun and not something that takes away from being so.

Let's begin the discussion by simply looking at what the X-Box One functionally does. The X-Box One's Kinect sensor effectively records the player's [your] motion, facial features, heart-rate, and activities in the room you use it in to play its motion-based game titles. The information from those gaming sessions are then sent directly to Microsoft's on-line servers. That would seem like an ordinary if not for the concern raised over the X-Box One's "always on-line" requirements. Unlike its predecessor, the new Kinect 2.0 would retain a constant connection to the Internet to be played and would then feed that information from your home onto the worldwide stream vulnerable to theft by anyone. That prospect is genuinely disturbing to players and has only been further fueled by recent suggestions of Microsoft's own practices. 

(We all know we're being watched these days, but do we know by who?. . .) 

As it was reported by The Guardian, Microsoft included itself among the Internet giants of Google, Apple, and Facebook in assisting the National Security Agency in circumventing the encryption codes of its users personal information. The report further makes note that the company's information has been mined by the NSA since 2007 with or without their previous cooperation; nevertheless, the video calls and passwords through the now Microsoft-owned website Skype are now in hands other than their users. In the time since, Microsoft has since denied any such involvement with the NSA or information leakage, yet varying levels of mistrust seem to permanently surround the new X-Box. Following E3 and in light of these further cases, Microsoft further assured players that the Kinect will be entirely optional for the system and it can paused at any time. Yet how sure can we now be of who's on the other end fiddling with switches?

The fear surrounding the Kinect may at first seem like that of no consequence. "Why should I care who's watching me?" you may ask. "I have nothing to hide." That may be entirely true. At the same time, is it a matter of what you have to hide, or what you have a right to keep private?

(Why am I so Interesting to look at?) 

The rest of the debate cannot be talked about without discussing the larger matter at hand of the digital age as a whole. We, of course, live in a period of society where nearly not communication we do save for our talking face to face [and even that's dicy depending on where you are] is not being recorded by phone, text-message, or e-mail. People, whether of the government cabal that you might believe in or simple hackers looking to do senseless mischief, are going to have the temptation to abuse our technologies for harm or personal gain. Like too many things, though, we're told to deal with it. I know that I don't appreciate that kind of acceptance and neither do many of you reading this. We shouldn't have to feel invaded by our media, we should enjoy it. 

In the same manner as a do-not-disturb sign over our doors when we sleep at night, it's not a matter of security so much as it is of common courtesy, among other things. It shouldn't be relevant whether we're keeping a bomb or our old comic-book collection under our beds, it's the fact that it's private property within our homes. Moreover, privacy should not be a privilege granted to us by any power, it's a right that's meant to be instilled in law. If it's an issue of public security, you pursue things called warrants. Anyone would say that the vast 99% that own and use Kinect will not be terrorists or ever become such, either through video-games or other surrounding factors.If this suspicious attitude against secret monitoring seems paranoid, then it's no more paranoid than the idea of our secret agencies surveilling us only based on suspicion. Prioritizing real terrorists from perceived ones isn't just more practical, it's about protecting innocent people from a misjudgment. 

We can also not say that data recording like the Kinect's doesn't have consequences to its owners. In the case of Justin Carter, we know that just plain horrible commentary can be recklessly shared with too many people. Justin's comments cannot be defended and we all know that making pointless threats, even if jokingly, is nothing but wrong, but was prison time with no charge a reaction of due process? The Kinect's recording ability could easily recreate this same case through instances of disclosing similar commentary. Could law-enforcement demonstrate the same overreactions it the same way as the rest of our communications? 

(Insert More Money for More of What I Don't Want?. . .) 

There is, of course, more to raise complaints over than just a sense of maintaing a moral high-ground with the Kinect. There's a cost to spyware that's quite monetary. It's no secret that the removal of the Playstation 4's eye sensor from the console package was what, in part, gave them a last minute price-advantage over the X-Box One at its E3 unveiling. The X-Box One's Kinect, despite being afore mentioned as "optional" is still packaged with the X-Box One at sale, inevitably driving up the price by the $100 extra it is. As many may like the Kinect there are, in fact, an obvious number that don't. It makes little sense why a truly "optional," that some don't want to be packaged with the system more do. Why not allow us to purchase it separately or not as we choose? Such questions only further speaks to the uncompromising profit motive by Microsoft over the course of their failed business pitches to players. Worse, it only further fuels the speculation about the Kinect's true relationship to the system, let alone its monitoring capabilities. Surveillance like the same feared in the Kinect costs us money in the form of taxes just as well. Why pay for something if we aren't all suspects? 

(But why not All?. . .)

In the end, my argument can ultimately be about the respect for the player that I haven't seen given in the midst of this heated case. Regardless of the Kinect's ultimate spying abilities, Microsoft's lack of transparency with gaming community displays a failed sense of transparency that raises a simply question of trust with its audience. They say that any and all spyware capable system specs for the X-Box One will be patched. Can we believe them if they were the ones to allow them to be implemented originally? Even with their purported slogan of "Your privacy is our policy," its still obvious that they built a system capable of leaking information to the Internet whether out of negligence or otherwise. I do not condemn any avid player who does buy an X-Box One this holiday season, or even the console itself for being anything more than simply not catering to my gaming tastes. I instead condemn the lack of responsibility that its developers have shown to its consumers. It is something to be continually vigilant against as both our gaming and our world grows into the virtual. Someone is always looking at you. But do you know who? 

We Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Blog Entry


This was an undoubtedly heated and difficult topic to cover for the Inquisitive Blogger and perhaps one that I won't return to anytime soon. I can only hope I communicated myself with the professionalism I intended and I welcome you to lay out your own opinion. Disagree with me? Feel free to leave your comments below.  

Tomorrow on the Inquisitive Blogger: How Do Ya Like Your Artstyle?