What you can do (according to Microsoft) if Kinect is ogling your jiggly bits

I'm not completely satisfied with the Kinect's privacy options, and I'd like to see Microsoft go further with one of its upcoming Xbox system updates.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Back in November, I wrote 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect. As a gift to those readers who complain when I write about government topics here on ZDNet Government, it was an article entirely devoid of civics value whatsoever. It was, however, a useful and entertaining read.

A few weeks later, I got a letter from a female reader that took the Kinect topic into a new, civics-related area: personal privacy.

She'd read my Kinect article, felt it helped her understand the issues, and went ahead and bought the device. She loved it. But over time, she began to get more and more nervous about my Reason 7: What if your stupid, embarrassing, jumping pictures wind up on Facebook?

In my article, I explained that for those pics to wind up on Facebook (or elsewhere on the Internet), you'd have to enable a sequence of features on the Xbox 360. But that wasn't her concern. Her concern was what if a friend came over to her house, fired up her Xbox, and found pictures of her that were embarrassing, or when she was dancing to Dance Central after work, without all her clothes on?

She wanted to know if there was a central place on the Xbox 360 where she could go to delete all the images and video taken by the Kinect.

It was a good question, and one for which I didn't have an answer.

So I started looking into it. First, I fired up my Xbox 360 and dug through all the menus. There was no apparent way to delete all the pictures and videos. Some of the games themselves had a way, but I couldn't find any central menu option or switch.

I've always liked and respected the folks at Microsoft, and have even had a pretty good relationship with their PR team, so that's where I turned next. The following answers are attributable to a "Microsoft spokesperson":

Please see below on how to delete photos from the console, keep in mind it varies per title.

"The Kinect camera shoots photographs of people playing certain Kinect games, and each game title determines how those photos are stored and provides clear instructions on how to manage those photos. We recommend that after each game is concluded, the owner decide -- along with the other players of that game session -- which photos to store and which to delete. For images chosen to store, the console owner can send those to KinectShare, access them through Kinectshare.com, and download them onto a private computer. That way, the photos are stored for future use in a way that only the owner can access.

Also, Kinect does not store videos containing images of players on the console or elsewhere."

I asked a few follow-up questions. First, I asked, "Would it be accurate to say that if there's pictures or video stored by the application, it would be reflected in the Memory Settings area of the device?"

Here's what I was told:

There is no one consistent place where photos are stored. Each game can decide its own location. Hence, our guidance is to make storage decisions when games are concluding. Since each game stores photos differently, you would need to make storage decisions based on each game.

My final question to Microsoft on the topic was, "Also, if KinectShare is never used or logged into, then is it reasonably fair to assume that the pictures are secured and, while they might be on the Xbox 360 itself, they're certainly not shared on the Internet?"

That was confirmed:

I would like to reiterate that photos are ONLY shared outside of the console on KinectShare if you've given permission. Then of course, how you share photos from KinectShare is totally up to you.

If KinectShare is not used or is "blocked" it will not leave the console. I recommend visiting our Kinect Privacy FAQ as it helps answer a lot of those questions about how KinectSharing works and there is a section dedicated to photos. The site is as follows: www.xbox.com/kinectprivacy

I'd like to see Microsoft go further.

Microsoft has always been quite respectful of its users' privacy needs, unlike some other major tech industry (Facebook) players who (Facebook) won't be named (Facebook). Even so, I'm not completely satisfied with the Kinect's privacy options, and I'd like to see Microsoft go further with one of its upcoming Xbox system updates.

Specifically, I'd like to see the option for an Xbox owner to delete all identifying Kinect image and video data from the Xbox Dashboard, across all games. Anything else would be substantially less secure.

Here's the basic problem: in order to be sure all those images and videos are erased, each Xbox owner would have to load each game disc (assuming that all the discs could be found and still work), and then navigate using each game's unique menu options, and then do this for every user on that particular machine.

Sure, it's doable. But for the sake of Kinect owners, and to save them what could be some very troubling embarrassment or other difficulty in the future, I strongly recommend to Microsoft that they implement a single image/video kill option for each Xbox.

By the way, I know that could backfire, in that other users could delete things an Xbox owner might not delete. An optional -- "optional" being the operative word -- password setting would solve this.

Finally, for the record, there are no images or videos of me dancing in front of my Xbox 360. I do not dance. Ever.

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