PSA: Kinect May Be Spying On You

Friday, February 28th, 2014

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Xbox One Kinect | oprainfall

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).


About Guy Rainey

I’m Guy Rainey. I’m a hardcore Nintendo fan, a PC enthusiast, and a Sony sympathizer. Also an amateur/aspiring game creator. I love any game that puts story as the main focus of the game, so that means JRPGs are my favorite genre almost by default.

  • Jordo5280

    Ok Oprainfall…. don’t be like this. That headlines has nothing to do with the article, the source never explicitly states kinect is spying on your or will ever be… I adore this site because it isn’t Kotaku in any regard, because it doesn’t have click bait and is filled with content I love. So please don’t post garbage like this any more… its one thing if you would like to start a discussion but headline the article accordingly!

    • multibottler0cket

      Umm… The title says that Kinect may be spying on you, and the article says that “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.”.

      I don’t really see what your problem is.

    • Jordo5280

      Wasn’t really my whole point more as this shouldn’t be here at all on oprainfall… if I wanted a site to discuss loosely assumed rumors on a document that ‘leaked’ I would put on my tin foil hat and visit fox news or kotaku.

    • multibottler0cket

      Ok, two things:

      First, it was your whole point, you said “That headlines has nothing to do with the article, the source never explicitly states kinect is spying on your or will ever be”. You said nothing about “loosely assumed rumours”, and your initial statement demonstrated that you didn’t even read the article.

      Second, this site has articles about video games, video game companies, and video game systems. Therefore, anything related to these topics, in this case, video game hardware, has its place on this site.

      Your inconsistent and highly variable statements indicate an emotional response to this article rather than a rational response, so I suggest you thoroughly think through your feelings before composing a comment on one of these articles.

    • Thanatos2k

      Is it really a rumor? The document confirms they were broadly stealing webcam data, and then (in sometime between 2010 and 2012) were looking into expanding that program into stealing Kinect data.

      You REALLY think they just stopped and said “You know what? This is wrong! We’re totally going to stop stealing more and more webcam data, especially now that there’s a webcam attached to the console that must be included and hooked up.”

    • Thomas Johnson

      “British surveillance agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), in association with the NSA, has been collecting webcam data from people not suspected of wrongdoing”

      combined with

      “one presentation discusses with interest the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360′s Kinect camera”

      Did you not see that?

  • smacd

    If you don’t think your oppressive government hasn’t both looked at this as an option and explored actually implementing this, you’re a fool. It doesn’t matter if you “have nothing to hide”, you should be offended and angry about what your government is illegally doing.

    Trust no one.

    • taekk

      No, you’re not a fool. The fact that governments are doing this is unbelievable and outrageous. I mean, Britain, 1984 takes place there for frick’s sake. Along with all the CC cameras, are you ACTIVELY TRYING to make the book come true?

      It’s sad that the standard has dropped to where citizens have to assume the government is spying on them. I wish this was still unthinkable and in the realm of paranoia.

    • Guy Rainey

      Neither the US government nor the British government are trying oppress people. Optic Nerve is not trying to capture people’s private parts, that’s just an unfortunate side effect. What the NSA and GCHQ are trying to do is set up a database of people so that they can use facial recognition to both determine the identities of criminal perpetrators and track people suspected of committing crimes. This software is simply trying to make it easier for law enforcement to do their job, which is to keep us safe.

      I’m not defending their actions; having my picture in a government database means that I am then guilty until proven innocent. I’m just saying that this isn’t the actions of oppressors, but of well-meaning people who have simply gone to far.

    • smacd

      I don’t give two craps about why they are doing it. In the US it is a blatant violation of the 4th amendment, no matter what the reason. The 4th amendment was specifically enacted as a protection of the citizens against general warrants. General warrants ARE oppressive. Making the citizens afraid of saying and doing things even in their own home IS oppression. And the US and British governments are doing it intentionally. This has nothing to do with trying to protect us, it hasn’t for years. The government was corrupted long ago. Look at the NSA and TSA and tell me the government isn’t trying to turn the citizenry into sheep accepting of a totalitarian government.

      Anyone willing to give up a little privacy for a little security deserves neither – Benjamin Franklin

    • Guy Rainey

      I absolutely agree! I am flabbergasted by people who willingly give up certain freedoms because they hope to be safer. However, I made that point simply to remember that there are people with good intentions behind this. Awful actions which should be contested, but good intentions.

    • Thanatos2k

      Are there REALLY good intentions behind it though? Because it’s pretty clear none of this is making anyone safer. So to continue to do it speaks not of good intentions, but a lust for power and control.

    • Thanatos2k

      And that’s illegal AS HELL. The British government is not allowed to spy on British citizens like that, and the United States is not allowed to spy on US citizens like that.

      So what do they do? They spy on the other people’s citizens and then TRADE THE DATA. That somehow circumvents the laws about it.

      Who’s going to stop them? Until Snowden leaked it they sure as hell weren’t going to tell us they were even doing it.

  • Vinicius

    And Orwell is like “Guuuuuuuuuys, I wrote 1984 as a warning, not as a guide!”

    • smacd

      “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
      Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”
      – Martin Neimoeller

      Remember, if you don’t speak out for the oppression of your peers now, there won’t be anyone left to speak out for you when the tyrants come. Otherwise, get used to Newspeak.

  • Ninty

    So if there’s a camera built into my laptop, people could potentially see what I’m doing even if it’s off?

    • Thomas Johnson

      They can turn it on without you knowing and disable the indicator that it is on, yes.

    • smacd

      This is absolutely true. The Snowden documents reveal that the NSA and FBI have been able to do this for years, without having any indication to the laptop user that the webcam is on.

      That is why the “paranoid” people who put tape over their laptop’s webcams aren’t nuts… its not paranoia if they are actually watching you.

    • Guy Rainey

      I think the correct term is, “Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean someone’s not after me.” But your point is well taken.

  • Keno the Rat

    I don’t think this topic is appropriate for Oprainfall. The headline is intentionally baiting and there can be no productive discussion on this topic and in this format from either console fanboys or armchair activists that swarm to headlines like this. There are other sites for this…they’re called NeoGAF and Kotaku. I’d like to think that most of your readers enjoy your site for its coverage of niche, unsung, and under marketed gems of games. You already have intentionally vague/scary/interesting/baiting links at the bottom of every article from your advertising partners. That’s fine, I understand you have to make money, but please consider your topics more carefully next time. Please don’t become another me-too gaming news site.

    • smacd

      Its perfectly appropriate. Gamers should be aware of the likely privacy invasion they have when they intentionally bring certain devices into their own. Not everyone visits sites like NeoGAF and Kotaku.

    • Keno the Rat

      Another way this headline could have been titled is, “Any Organized Spying Network, Government Sanctioned or Otherwise, Can Use ANY of the Internet Connected Devices in Your Home to Conduct Surveillance On You”. Which is not news…but it is my point.

      Also, my comparison to Kotaku and NeoGAF was not to reflect positively on either of those sites…quite the opposite, in fact.

    • Thanatos2k

      There’s really only one Internet Connected Device Camera With Always Listening Microphone included with a console though. And they specifically were considering using Kinect data. Not PS3 eyetoys. Not Nintendo 3DS’s. Kinects.

      Given that every time there’s smoke there’s fire with these intelligence agencies, it’s almost certain that they’re using them now. And gamers should know about that.

    • Keno the Rat

      With your knowledge of the product, you’ve proven you can work in the marketing department for Microsoft…but nothing else.

      So your point about the Kinect’s features is…what, exactly? That because the spies won’t be able to take infrared and thermal images of your testicles with anything else in your house…naturally, this will be the only device they use from now on? Oh, rock on. That means we can just throw our Kinects away and that’ll be the end of spying! Boy, it’s a good thing they can’t steal our phone and credit card records, keep an eye on what we borrow from the library or what books we buy on our tablets, or hack our voice messages and emails.


    • Thanatos2k

      So because they might be spying on you some other way it just doesn’t matter?

  • I’m super disappointed to see content like this on oprainfall. I had faith in you guys to report the facts instead of resorting to sensationalism, which is exactly what the title and content of this article does.

    This author could really use some help when it comes to just reporting facts and not providing personal conjecture (i.e. the Windows comment). This is not an opinion piece. Report the news, and stop falling prey to sensationalism. This isn’t Kotaku.

    • Thanatos2k

      I bet you say that every time Snowden shows us something new. “Who cares? Not me! Spy on me all you want!”

    • On the contrary, I think that this is a serious and important issue that deserves attention. Never did I say that “I don’t care” or that I don’t think this article is important.

      I DO think that because this issue is important, focusing on the facts is absolutely essential as well as sticking to what we KNOW to be true. And I think that things like the title of this article send people running for their torches and pitchforks instead of trying to get their facts straight.

      Also as someone who works in IT, it irritates me to see generalizations about computer security that are not based on facts and simply conjecture (again, like the comment about Windows). If you want to make assertions, cite facts.

    • Thanatos2k

      My apologies then. I misinterpreted your complaint.

  • Thanatos2k

    The scary part is these documents were from like 2010-2012, before the Xbone always-on Kinect even existed.

    One can only imagine what they’re doing with that. If you knowingly brought a camera into your living room by buying a Bone you have only yourself to blame.

    • Keno the Rat

      Yes, let’s fear monger more about government surveillance on a niche games news website. That’s exactly what it’s here for…oh wait, no it isn’t. Oh, there’s my point again. It’s okay, I know you missed it.

    • Thanatos2k

      You clicked on the article. Don’t blame us.