Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kinect Is Watching You

Insanity Clause?
Today's Creepy Marketing Award goes to Microsoft, for this little gem: Kinect could be watching you while you watch, say, ESPN, and report back to advertisers what team you're rooting for, and select ads tailored to you.

The fevered imaginings of a journalist eager for headlines? No, this was from the COO of Microsoft's Entertainment Division, trying to impress an investor's conference. Kinect could help the company “be more targeted about what content choices we present; what advertising we present; how to get better feedback and data; about how many people are in a room when an advertisement is shown; how many people are in a room when a game in being played.” Since Kinect can see and hear you, and analyze the data it collects, it can figure out things like your team preferences based on the colors you might be wearing.

Now, this is similar to what search engines do, by looking at your search history and your location to filter search results. But it seems to me that actually watching and listening to you goes a step beyond in terms of privacy invasion. It reminds me of that school district that gave students webcam-equipped laptops, then spied on them at home.

Microsoft tries to be reassuring by noting that they aren't doing this. Yet. I certainly hope that before they do this, they put in some sort of user controls so you can be in charge of how much information Microsoft collects and uses. Here's Microsoft's exact statement on the matter:

"Xbox 360 and Xbox Live do not use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes. Microsoft has a strong track record of implementing some of the best privacy protection measures in the industry. We place great importance on the privacy of our customers' information and the safety of their experiences."

Sounds good, but of course, you're still trusting Microsoft to handle this data. And I wonder what would happen if a government agency subpoena'd this information... or could get rights to that data stream. I guess anyone really concerned by these issues might want to take a pass on owning a Kinect. Still, living in the 21st century has meant giving up a lot of privacy in order to take advantage of certain things. You can still be relatively private, but Amazon or Google won't be giving you helpful suggestions.

It's possible Kinect and Microsoft could go even further, using facial recognition software and some more processing to determine your attitudes towards what you're viewing.What the NSA could do with this sort of data stream... and Microsoft is interested in using the Kinect technology with all computers, not just 360's. They envision a home that recognizes you when you walk in the door, and responds to your voice and gesture commands. (Does the Roomba come rolling up to you, yipping happily,  when you come in the front door?)

I think it's really important for marketers, who are the gatekeepers for this sort of information flow, are completely open with customers about what data they track and what they do with it, and letting the customers control how the data can be used. Microsoft should have discussed this capability with customers before touting it in front of investors.

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