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We've asked Microsoft to clarify the technical specifics of how the system operates in listening mode, and if the company has considered any safeguards against potential privacy threats.
Update: A Microsoft spokesperson responded to our inquiry with the following statement.
Even when ostensibly not functioning, the Xbox One can run in a low-powered state, ready to be snapped on at a moment's notice.
That's something Microsoft was showing off last week as an asset.
Kinect for Xbox 360 was designed and built with strong privacy protections in place and the new Kinect will continue this commitment. 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.
"If I'm recording you, I have to stare at you — as a human being," Google Glass engineer Charles Mendis told The Verge when asked about Glass' privacy concerns.
What's more: its watchful new Kinect sensor that must be plugged in for the console to run can be turned off. Maybe this new Xbox won't be spying on everyone after all.
"It is not always watching or always listening," a rep for Microsoft told me over e-mail while I was trying to nail down some facts for a story about next-gen consoles that ran in yesterday's article, I reported that Microsoft says the Kinect can be turned off. This might seem obvious to anyone familiar with how consumer electronics work, but...
(Microsoft later denied that the Kinect would use information for targeted advertising.) But even then, the first Kinect was only enabled in specific situations, and didn't have an always-on listening mode.
Microsoft provided few additional details on how the new Kinect will work, but the company did mention that the system will run in an extremely low-power state for listening mode, meaning that the device's operating system and certain hardware features could be disabled in that state.