Your Family’s Privacy and the Xbox 360 Kinect

Posted on 06. Jan, 2011 by in For Parents, For Teachers

By Lynette Owens

Santa was very good to my kids this Christmas.  They were thrilled to discover that even though they both asked for a Nintendo Wii, they awoke on December 25 to find an Xbox Kinect waiting for them.

It is quite a leap from Atari joysticks and using keyboard arrows and spacebars. 

The idea of using mostly natural physical motions to engage in the games was thrilling (and exhausting when running & jumping were involved).  We had never bought our kids a gaming console before, and the idea of them getting serious physical activity while playing it was a big selling point.  There are great games such as River Rush (included with the Kinect) which requires you to stand in a raft, roll down rapids, and reach, jump, and duck for coins.  My kids also enjoyed choosing and dressing their avatars.

After the first game, however, I was surprised to see the “photo montage” playback at the conclusion of it.  The Kinect console captured still & video images of my kids as they played the game, and played them back at the end with cute captions and music playing over the images.  It was entertaining for all of us.

But I was concerned about where these images were being shared or uploaded.  There were my 2 young kids, in our home, being projected back to us and we knew this information had been captured and stored somewhere.

While the games are fairly intuitive while in play, we did not find navigating the settings and menu options as easy.  After some guessing and fumbling with how to scroll through the menu items (there is no search capability to quickly find privacy settings, e.g.), we finally found the privacy settings and discovered that the default was for the videos and images to be shared on Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online gaming service that allows you to play games against other members in its online community.  So we immediately set up blocking on all of it.  The games still continue to capture the images of you playing the game, but in our case, it isn’t being shared anywhere.

I finally took a look at Microsoft’s documentation about privacy settings for the Kinect.  It turns out there was a lot more to know then I had originally been concerned about.  For this game to do what it does, it reads you – your skeletal frame, your face, and even your voice if you want to use voice commands – captures this, and stores it.  This is not just information you type in or click on.  Their privacy policy confirms that this identity information is not given away as personally identifiable to you, is tagged by a string of unrecognizable numbers, and is shared with game developers only in aggregate with other players’ information to improve the gaming experience.  It also clearly states that this capability cannot be turned off.

Considering your family’s and your own privacy in the context of this new, engaging technology takes a bit more thought than how we normally think of protecting our online privacy today.  I think the closest to sharing such information about yourself online is if you’ve uploaded a video of yourself on YouTube, but even this doesn’t quite come close to the data it records about your movements (how you throw a bowling ball) and how it can predict future behavior (your avatar’s facial expressions when you win or lose, or if you’re racing past the lead runner on that race track.)

Like many gaming consoles, the Xbox also gives you access to the Internet (you can access various content such as NetFlix movie services).  So you should also consider what types of content you will allow your kids to access through this console.

Lastly, while there aren’t a number of games yet available for the Kinect, the ones that are currently out do have age ratings.  So consider which games you will allow your kids to play based on this.

Some tips: 

  1. Read Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect Privacy and Online Safety FAQ.  You will understand exactly what data they are capturing, how they’re using it, and how long they hold on to it.
  2. Turn on the privacy settings for your kids or you so that you are sharing only the information with the public that you want shared.  This is done within the Privacy settings of the Xbox Live Profile for each user you set-up in the game.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the parental control features such as those that limit what your kids can access on the Internet, prevent games that don’t meet the game age ratings that are best for your kids, and set time limits.  This can be found under  MyXbox, Family Settings.

I am not by any means condemning the Xbox Kinect.  Three generations in my family have been enjoying it since Christmas Day (bowling and table tennis are great for every age).  But if you have one or are thinking of buying one, you need educate yourself on the privacy implications that come with it.  Like many useful and entertaining technologies, there is a need to give up some personal information (in this case, your actual body) to get the most out of it.  So be aware and be in control of what, when, and how you’re sharing it.

For more Internet safety tips for your family, go to www.trendmicro.com/internetsafety

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5 Responses to “Your Family’s Privacy and the Xbox 360 Kinect”

  1. Cindy

    06. Jan, 2011

    Lynette,

    This is an eye opening post! Thanks for sharing the information – I have shared it with my family and friends on FB as Christmas was good for everyone with new technology toys! I wonder how the Wii compares in terms of info captured, stored and sent…guess I’ll have to go digging!

    Happy New Year to you!!

    • lynette

      26. Jan, 2011

      Thanks, Cindy. Actually, it turns out the Wii & PlayStation are collecting and sharing the same kind of data to the game developers. I spoke with folks @ EA who develop the exercise game for all 3 vendors and they confirmed that they have been collecting and using this data to improve the game for some time. We’re just finally waking up to this with the Kinect because it uses our body movements to do what it does. I suggest you try and set the privacy settings accordingly where you can. I will try to provide similar information to these 2 devices in a future post.

  2. Cindy M.

    07. Jan, 2011

    Hi Lynne,
    Your post was enlightening. When I heard about how Kinect works, I immediately realized that it has great potential for negative uses. There are unfortunately people out three with with slimy morals who will exploit any media for ill. I am sure the pornography industry will find a way for people to have simulated sex or something like that. My imagination is not as vivid or explicit as theirs, but I get a vague bad feeling about how this amazing technology will soon be subverted for some less than wholesome uses. Unfortunate but inevitable, I believe….. Cindy M.

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