When I posted a blog to the soapbox a couple years ago around Kinect's launch questioning it's unique potential for exploiting the privacy of those who buy it, I was met with quite the colorful array of posts and messages from a number of vocal dissenters who were seemingly intent on deflecting away from the issues and gaming-related examples I was specifically focusing on.
I attempted to make it known to anyone who was willing to listen to what I was actually saying, instead of what they 'thought' I was trying to say and the excessive paranoia I was supposedly displaying, that my two main points of focus were a) the Kinect's intended demographic deserved a more complete perspective in order to make more informed choices regarding it, and b) the technology powering the Kinect had clearly stated motives that went far beyond some dancing games and Kinectimals.
It wasn't about me flying off the handle and telling people to not buy the Kinect, it wasn't about being anti-Microsoft or camera oriented motion gaming, and it certainly wasn't about ignoring the multitude of other non-gaming oriented ways people give away their privacy. It was primarily about my belief that people deserved to know more about the capabilities of the piece of tech they were buying in this particular case, and the longterm intent of those creating it. I felt the mind-numbingly repeated "well, [insert popular technology] already can spy on you so why should I / you care or even talk about it?" argument was lazy, narrow and in no way lessened the importance of the awareness of this topic, especially for interested buyers who weren't very technologically inclined.
Things eventually died down. Time passed, Kinects were sold, issue to the backburner. Unsurprisingly though, as recent headliners like "Microsoft patents tech that watches viewers" on Gamespot would indicate, the issue has managed to make it's rounds once more, and this time around Microsoft has it's eyes on an even bigger prize. In 2010, it was about exploited privacy. In 2012 it is about what tolerated privacy exploitation will be used to achieve, or more appropriately, 'control'. The inevitable progression.
The attention is currently centered on last week's surfacing of a patent Microsoft filed in early 2011 involving the monitoring of viewers through an advanced camera, not for the sake of simple advertising, but enhanced age restrictions and media license enforcement.
"The patent application, filed under the heading Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User, proposes to use cameras and sensors like those in the Xbox 360 Kinect controller to monitor, count and in some cases identify the people in a room watching television, movies and other content. The filing refers to the technology as a consumer detector.
In one scenario, the system would then charge for the television show or movie based on the number of viewers in the room. Or, if the number of viewers exceeds the limits laid out by a particular content license, the system would halt playback unless additional viewing rights were purchased.
The system could also take into account the age of viewers, limiting playback of mature content to adults, for example. This patent application doesnt explain how that would work, but a separate Microsoft patent application last year described a system for using sensors to estimate age based on the proportions of their body."
Yikes. The exploitation of consumer privacy is being sought after to the pave way for something worse. Who could have possibly seen that coming next?
I'm not going to say the technology is in place yet to fully flesh out the ideas in this patent, but the intent obviously is. Some time, persistence, and crafty Apple-quality marketing that manages to get people to buy into the whole "That required facial-scan login is just hands-free convenience! Our thoughtful camera auto pauses your game/movie when you get up for a drink!" rhetoric as 'features' could land gamers into this realm of possibility sooner than they'd think.
It's clearer than ever that the Kinect is, at it's heart, part one of a much grander design. It is a marketing research tool and hardware testing ground for more than just games and ads. After a successful Kinect launch and the 360 now reaching it's twilight, the sought after knowledge of consumer willingness and preference has been gathered, and the additional technological refinement achieved. One step closer towards the patented tool becoming the marketable weapon of control for business partners. And for XBOX users, that much closer from add-on option to built-in requirement.
Regardless of the arguing over what something like the Kinect is, there can no longer be any doubt what Microsoft wants (and is actively working towards) it and it's future bretheren to someday 'be'.
In the end I believe this all ties into the fact that gamers cannot hide behind what is only currently possible forever, at some point we all need to accept accountability for what we encourage through our spending. The very way consumers are allowed to play purchased games and media is attempting to be greatly redefined by those pulling it's strings, with many willingly throwing money at corporate ploys that would allow it to.