Xbox One subject to surveillance

Laurel Delany, ‘Doah Staff Writer
March 19, 2014

'Doah photo courtesy of wired.co.uk

‘Doah photo courtesy of wired.co.uk

Microsoft Xbox One fans thought that potential privacy breach issues with the system were over once Microsoft released a statement saying that the webcam feature on the console would not always be active and would not be taking photos of the player’s face. Unfortunately for Xbox One fans, a new privacy controversy has arisen for the struggling console.

A report from The Guardian claims that the U.S. National Security Agency and the U.K. surveillance agency, GCHQ were actively monitoring Xbox Live communications, World of Warcraft servers and the online virtual community Second Life to find “acts of terrorism.”

According to these reports, many of which are based in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the NSA and GCHQ started monitoring Xbox Live and other online gaming outlets because they felt that terrorists could exploit the anonymity of online gaming communities to carry out secret communications.  According to leaked documents, neither the NSA nor GCHQ found any terrorists using online gaming communities to coordinate plans or attacks. Reportedly, the only thing the surveillance agencies found by monitoring online gaming communities was a website that traded stolen credit card information.

“Optic Nerve,” the formerly secret surveillance operation created and implemented by the GCHQ, was taxed with collecting webcam images in bulk from Yahoo users. It has been claimed to have collected information on an estimated 1.8 million users. In documents leaked by Snowden, Optic Nerve began as a prototype in 2008 and was still operational in 2012.

New reports from the Guardian claim that Optic Nerve and the NSA were interested in using the built in camera in Xbox consoles for monitoring purposes because they generated “fairly normal webcam traffic.”  While Microsoft has been very defensive and insists that the Xbox webcam would not be used to invade its users privacy, the recent reveal of the monitoring of Xbox Live has not eased skeptics’ minds.

Microsoft has said, “Absent a new law, we don’t believe the government has the legal authority to compel us or any other company that makes products with cameras and microphones to start collecting voice and video data, and we’d aggressively challenge in court any attempts to try and force us to do so.”

Phillipa War from Wired, a UK technology news source, says, “With more personal data being collected than ever before it’s in the interests of big companies to be seen to be protecting that data fiercely. There’s also a difference between what a device is capable of and what it’s actually being used for. However, Microsoft cannot predict whether laws will be enacted which broaden the government’s powers of surveillance and data collection so, it’s worth keeping an eye on which bits of hardware might just be keeping an eye back on you.”

So while Microsoft has done its best to assure users that the webcam built into the Xbox One is harmless, Optic Nerve’s collection of Yahoo webcam images, and surveillance of Xbox Live has sufficiently unsettled users of the Microsoft console.


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