Xbox One Kinect can be shut off, says Microsoft

Concerns regarding the always-on Kinect sensor system and its privacy implications have been partially addressed, but questions remain

29 May 2013
Microsoft Xbox One

Microsoft has addressed concerns surrounding the Kinect 2 sensor system that will be bundled with every Xbox One console, confirming that the sensor can be switched off as governments begin to raise concerns surrounding secret surveillance.

A major feature of Microsoft's upcoming console, the new Kinect system is designed to allow the player to control all aspects of the device using gestures and voice input - including being able to turn it on from a completely powered-off state. In order to do this, the Kinect is constantly listening in with active microphones - and while Microsoft has stated that none of the recorded audio is ever transmitted outside the console, that's enough for politicians as far apart as Australia and Germany to have raised privacy concerns.

Now, the company has said that the system can be switched completely off in a state that will mean the Kinect sensor device is powered down and no longer listening. "You can turn the system completely off," an unnamed company representative told gaming site Kotaku. "This would use no power and turn everything off. We'll share more details about how it all works later."

That the system can be completely powered off is an about-face from the company's previous stance that the Xbox One is an always-on device designed to be connected and ready to go at a moment's notice. It will, however, please privacy campaigners - although for those who want total peace of mind, it's still possible to just turn the device at the wall socket.

What Microsoft's statements don't cover, however, is the use of the Kinect system while gaming. Although it goes without saying that the Kinect sensor system will need to be activated while playing a Kinect-enabled game, Microsoft seems to suggest that the system will be fully active even when playing games that do not make use of the Kinect system, while watching films and TV or listening to music. Whether the system can be disabled during these scenarios without turning the console off is not yet clear - but patents filed by the company looking to monitor the number of people watching a film, or to see if the gamer is paying attention to advertising, suggest that Kinect will be watching its users at all times while the console is active.

Microsoft's Xbox One is expected to launch later this year, with the company planning a more detailed second unveiling at the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) next month.

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