With Kinect 2.0 poised to react to voice commands even when the Xbox One is on standby, privacy concerns have understandably been raised regarding Microsoft's new console. However, Microsoft's Phil Harrison has moved to assure people that the company won't be using Kinect's always-on feature for anything shady.
"Microsoft has very, very good policies around privacy," Harrison told Eurogamer. "We're a leader in the world of privacy, I think you'll find. We take it very seriously. We aren't using Kinect to snoop on anybody at all. We listen for the word 'Xbox on' and then switch on the machine, but we don't transmit personal data in any way, shape or form that could be personally identifiable to you, unless you explicitly opt into that."
It is to be hoped that those options are incredibly easy to find, particularly given Microsoft's apparent eagerness to use Kinect to encourage interaction with video content and advertisements. The Xbox One reveal promised that Kinect would track more metrics and data than ever before, and that third-parties (couched in game development terms) would have access to more data than ever before. Hopefully, this will be an area where Microsoft provide as much transparency and user options as they possibly can.
Harrison was keen to stress the optional nature of Kinect 2.0 from a development perspective at least.
"Game designers don't have to use the motion-sensing capability of Kinect to add magic to a game," he said. "It could be just as simple as a voice command, or it could be just as simple as knowing there's more than one person in the room at the same time, and being able to automatically populate options and user interface - knowing there are two people playing or three people playing. Things that can be really subtle but really joyful to the player. It doesn't have to be jumping up off the couch and running around your living room - it can be quite subtle.
"And, ultimately, some games and some players don't have to use Kinect at all. They could just use the voice to switch on - to be able to walk into the living room and say 'Xbox on' and have it turn on your entertainment system, your TV and your Xbox all by itself is pretty magical. And for it to recognise that it's you and to tailor your experience and your favourites and your recommendations around you and your personality is a pretty magical step forward."
The word "magic" is problematic. It's a word that almost suggests an audience isn't intelligent enough to understand what's going on in the background, and is hyperbolic enough to almost automatically trigger a certain amount of scepticism.
In the end, we don't want magic. We want transparency and options. Cool features, yes, and these are some pretty cool features. But not if we don't know what's happening to our data.