This nifty little article started out as a review of a new product. Namely the Pritect Sensor Cover for Xbox 360. Initially it sounded like a high tech way of limiting your Kinect from eavesdropping on you. Interestingly it was also billed as not interfering with the regular operation of your Kinect.
To Pritect and Serve
Now, having a tendency to over complicate things, your grumpy and frequently intoxicated reviewer imagined a system of louvers, pulleys, steam engines and mysterious druid technology to accomplish this feat. I kindly asked for demo product to evaluate for my somewhat grumpy and frequently intoxicated readers.
Imagine my shock when I realized that the Pritect Sensor Cover is just a very shiny, very cool looking piece of plastic. It fits snugly and securely over your Kinect sensor and blocks the cameras and IR emitters.
That’s it. No magic. Just a plastic cover that prevents the Kinect from seeing you. Balls I say! What a waste. I was underwhelmed.
Peek-a-Boo, I Don’t See You
I tested the product thoroughly. First I powered up our family Xbox 360 (because my private one doesn’t have Kinect) and waited to see if it freaked out because it was blindfolded. Nope. Everything worked fine. In fact, it seemed that once the Kinect realized it was blindfolded it just hung its head and didn’t try to engage me any further.
Sure it was acting like it couldn’t see me. My daughter does the same thing when I am waving at her to get out of the pool. I needed to test to see if it really was blind. I spent the next three hours photoshopping a picture of Bill Gates dry humping a crying polar bear, who was eating a native American covered in trash, while being simultaneously donkey punched by both President’s Bush and Obama, sitting atop the partially dismembered corpse of Stephen Hawking. I printed this out on the skin of a spotted owl in non-soy based ink and held it up to the Kinect. Nothing. This Pritect thing really works!
I tested the voice recognition and it still worked perfectly.
Grill of My Dreams
So what does this mean for us, the consumer? Well, I love my grill. I have a Char-Broil Pro series 6 burner LP gas grill. All cast iron grates. I love this grill. What do I protect it with? A piece of plastic. A cheap cover that goes over my baby and keeps it safe from the elements.
I have a smoker too (can you see the recurring theme here?) and it is also protected by a cheap piece of plastic. I have protected cars, boats, shoes, planes, guns, and even animals with cheap pieces of plastic. So at a suggested retail of $15, this cheap piece of plastic is not a bad way to protect my $100+ Kinect sensor from the vagaries of a group of 6 year old girls with nail polish and juice boxes.
I said this started as a review. Let’s go beyond that though. According to Catalyst Components, the company that produces and distributes the Pritect Sensor Cover, the main reason for creating a product like this is to protect your privacy.
Private Eyes, Are Watching You
Think about it. With Kinect you have a fully functioning camera, with facial recognition capability, always on in your living room. As you may notice your Xbox 360 is a “soft power” device. When you turn it off, you aren’t really turning it off. You are asking a microprocessor to shut off power to most parts of it. It isn’t really “off” though. It could be finishing a download in the background, re-organizing your hard drive, or singing “Daisy.” You just don’t know.
While we are on this stroll, let’s go one step further. Microsoft’s Terms of Service and Privacy Agreements disclose that they are allowed to collect a myriad of information about you through Xbox Live for the express purpose of marketing and advertising.
In late 2010 Microsoft’s COO of Interactive Media Business, Dennis Durkin, outlined a scenario where people might be watching a football game. Kinect would be able to tell what fan jerseys they were wearing and collect that data to be used in targeted advertising. This statement brought a flurry of media attention and several subsequent statements by Microsoft that they were not “currently” using the Kinect to collect advertising data.
There is some truth to the argument that they don’t have to. In my real world job I deal with a lot of data compilers. I can tell you that for any given household in the U.S. I can access a little over 800 pieces of data. I can tell how many people are in a household, household income, individual income, marital status, level of education, number of cars, make and model of cars, own or rent, presence of children, age and gender of any member, how many credit cards, what magazines are read, right on down to how frequently you make online purchases. It’s crazy the amount of data collected and mined on a daily basis. Why go out on a limb to collect more with Kinect?
The Scorpion and The Frog
Because they can. Somewhere along the line, the ability to see how many times you get up from the TV and when will be too valuable to not track. The ability to peer into the living room is just too valuable to pass up. Sure it will just be for advertising, nothing nefarious. Until law enforcement starts getting subpoenas to turn on your Kinect, just like they can turn on a cell phone camera now.
Or maybe the whiz kid emo teenager next door hacks your home network and decides to post you and your spouse sharing “special time” on the couch.
Or worse, what happens when you decide to power down your Xbox and your Kinect just says, “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that Walla.”
Whether you think Microsoft is collecting data or not, whether you care if your data is collected or not, the possibility of it being captured is a reality.
Pritect exists because some people would rather have the peace of mind knowing the camera is covered. People aren’t beating down the bushes in my yard to spy a naked Walla through the window. Still, I spent $20 on some cheap plastic blinds to cover it.
So dropping $15 for a cover that protects your Kinect and your nightly living room activities from unexpected outcomes isn’t such a bad deal. Keep in mind though that the microphone still works. So if you want to hear my real opinion we will have to turn the stereo up and talk quietly in the corner.
About the Author
Eric "Walladog" Buwala lives, breathes, and embraces the lifestyle of the grumpy gamer. Crotchety beyond his years and cynical beyond his waist size, he spends most days starting sentences with “I liked it better the way it used to be” and “remember when...” Amazingly, he lives in Ohio with his wife, who inexplicably has endured his presence for over twenty years, seventeen of them as his spouse. His two children, ages 7 and 14, refer to him as the “Very Grumpy Bear” and the “Angry Wookie” respectively. He holds a private pilots license, advanced scuba certification, and an enlarged liver. He retreats to his cold, dark, damp man cave frequently enough to maintain a ten-thousand point addition to his Xbox Live gamerscore each year, but still cannot find a game he won’t complain about.