By Guy Rainey / February 28th, 2014
Have you acquired or are looking to acquire an Xbox Kinect? Be forewarned—the London Guardian has reported some disturbing news. British surveillance agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), in association with the NSA, has been collecting webcam data from people not suspected of wrongdoing for facial recognition purposes with a program codenamed Optic Nerve. This program has been found to have captured sexually explicit images.
The documents also chronicle GCHQ’s sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.
Now the main thrust of this program is Yahoo (who, thankfully, were outraged that their users privacy was being invaded this way). However, it seems that gamers are next on the agenda, the Guardian reports:
While the documents do not detail efforts as widescale as those against Yahoo users, one presentation discusses with interest the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360’s Kinect camera, saying it generated “fairly normal webcam traffic” and was being evaluated as part of a wider program.
Documents previously revealed in the Guardian showed the NSA were exploring the video capabilities of game consoles for surveillance purposes.
So, potentially, if you have an Xbox in your home, your private moments could be captured without your knowledge or consent. Whether or not it has happened yet is not the issue. Privacy experts make a habit of putting tape over webcams that come built into their laptops, and encourage others to do the same. Hackers can program a computer to broadcast whatever a webcam sees and can even turn off the indicator lights that tell you the camera is active. And if Windows were secure, there wouldn’t be hundreds of security programs for your Windows PC.
So, it seems that government agencies (to say nothing of enterprising hackers, because if the government can, there’s nothing stopping a smart coder) may use the Kinect to spy on owners of the devices. If you have a Kinect and don’t want potentially embarrassing images to be seen (and possibly illegally shared) by a government agent, I advise you to keep it unplugged when not in use (it’s not like voice recognition works all that well anyway).