Microsoft’s Albert Penello Clarifies use of Kinect for Advertising, and how Biometric Data is Collected

A few months ago an interview about the possible use of Kinect for advertising caused concern between gamers that saw it as some sort of Trojan Horse to boost Microsoft’s advertising revenue at their expense. Today Microsoft’s Director of Product Planning Albert Penello explained what’s up with that across a few messages on Neogaf.

NuAds by definition is simply interactive advertising done on the platform. Using the functions of the console and Kinect to interact vs. just watching a spot. There’s nothing particularly interesting happening here unless you’re in the advertising business, and we’ve done a few on Xbox 360 today.

What I think you’re asking about is an interview done earlier in the year where someone was talking about how some of the new Xbox One Kinect features *could* be used in advertising – since we can see expressions, engagement, etc. and how that might be used to target advertising. This is the point that seems to draw some controversy.

First – nobody is working on that. We have a lot more interesting and pressing things to dedicate time towards. It was an interview done speculatively, and I’m not aware of any active work in this space.

Second – if something like that ever happened, you can be sure it wouldn’t happen without the user having control over it. Period.

Two examples of how we deal with similar things today:

First, Kinect can recognize your face and log you in automatically. There could be some cool features we could enable if we stored that data in the cloud, like being able to be auto-recognized at a friend’s. I get asked for that feature a lot. But, for privacy reasons, your facial data doesn’t leave the console.

Second: You’ll see us do some things around Skype that freezes the video when Skype is not in focus (meaning, it’s not the primary app). If you go back to the home screen, or launch another app, we actually stop the video stream. We do this so the user can’t even ACCIDENTALLY have the video stream going on in the background.

I’ll say this – we take a lot of heat around stuff we’ve done and I can roll with it. Some of it is deserved. But preventing Kinect from being used inappropriately is something the team takes very seriously.

When a user asked him if the Xbox One will save biometric data of its users and upload it to the cloud, Penello responded:

Couple things, fair questions. First, I suggest you read this if you haven’t. I bet many people aren’t even aware this exists, but we have a super detailed page that outlines, in what I think is plain English, what data is collected today. It’s pretty thorough, and I think it demonstrates our commitment to being open about what data Kinect gets. It’s not like we hide this in some EULA somewhere.

Second: All those “biometric” features you saw demoed aren’t always turned on. They are features we make available.

Third: “biometric” data is pretty open-ended. For instance, we collect voice samples today if you opt-in (just like every phone does as well) to help improve the accuracy of the voice models. This, I suppose, could be considered “biometric” data going to the cloud.

When asked to clarify the part about Skype freezing the video while not in focus (the user was worried about not being able to chat while playing a game), he clarified further:

It means that if you’re video chatting, and say switch to another app, the video will stop working until you bring Skype back into focus.

Basically, we don’t want a situation where a user could think they are launching something else, but didn’t end the Skype call and video is still getting transmitted.

If you’re “intending” to engage with Skype (so it’s in full-screen or snapped) everything works great.

Finally Penello made sure to stress on the fact that, as far as he’s aware, the only “biometric” data collected are voice samples, and only wen the user opts in:

As far as I know, the only data we collect is Voice, via opt-in. If I’m incorrect on that, then I’ll update when I know differently. Otherwise, I believe that the page I linked you would have the most detailed information.

Do you feel safer after reading Penello’s explanation? If you’re planning to purchase a Xbox One, will you opt in to have your voice samples collected to help Microsoft improve the accuracy of the voice models?

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