The CSI Effect: Not everyone wants a Kinect camera in their living room

While it’s possible to make the technical argument that your privacy is safe, on the TV it’s possible for a nefarious hacker to take over the camera in your living room. This perception influences how people will react to the camera included by default in the new XBox.

I’ve got a Xbox 360 with Kinect in my living room, so it’s pretty clear that I’m not worried about the idea of an internet connected camera in the house. But the “includes Kinect” nature of the new Xbox One has a few people who aren’t so happy about the idea if a camera in their living room pensive about the new console.

I understand where they are coming from. It’s a bit like Google Glass. The idea that anyone walking down the street could be surreptitiously streaming everything they see to the internet where it’s gobbled up by the Google servers like a scene out of the TV drama Person of Interest. Sure, someone walking down the street could be recording you with a mobile phone, but it’s the non-obviously-recording nature of Glass that flips it over the line from “such a thing is already possible” to “this is a bit creepy”.

And now the new Xbox requires a camera connected to work. (or at least that's what the FAQ suggests)

In reality the camera only gets turned on when you use it for games with Kinect or Skype. It’s locked down, a light goes on, and you’ll know when it is operational. The camera is there, but it's safe.

However I can understand people who are reluctant about it. While it is extremely unlikely, it isn’t out of the bounds of possibility that a device that connects to and can browse the internet may at some point be infected with malware that hijacks the camera. Is it impossible that the camera might be hijacked? It might be almost infinitely improbable, but it is not impossible.

The idea of a hijacked camera borders on a bad TV plot. However what we see on TV does influence what our perceptions are (however unrealistic) about technology. If you watch enough Person of Interest or other shows involving high tech – then you’ve seen both the good guys and the bad guys take over webcams to view what’s going on remotely. They also have a device that turns any mobile phone into a tracking device and audio recording device. As much as one might say “this could never happen in real life, only on TV” – TV entertainment shapes perceptions about technology.

Take the CSI Effect - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSI_effect. In a nutshell, jurors believe the fictional forensic technology in CSI is real and demand that the same sort of evidence be presented to them in trials. Fictional technology and circumstances influence beliefs about what is possible in real world criminal trials. If you see it happen on TV enough, you believe it can happen in real life.

If the CSI effect is real, why not the “Person of Interest” effect where members of the public believe it is possible for nefarious people to take over their web cams?

I can understand why the new Xbox has Kinect built in. It provides game creators with certainty as to what features the console has and allows them to create new and innovative content. I’m sure that Microsoft has the security locked down tighter than Fort Knox wrapped in Duct Tape.

The drawback of the “included camera” is that it’s going to make the console substantially less attractive to people who do have concerns about internet connected cameras in their house. These concerns aren’t just informed by what is actually happening in the world, but will be informed by what is shown to be possible on the TV.

So while it’s possible to make the technical argument that your privacy is safe, on the TV it’s possible for a nefarious hacker to take over the camera in your living room.

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IT pro Orin Thomas provides true tales, snafus, news, and urban legends for Microsoft Windows system administrators.

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Orin Thomas

Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than thirty books for Microsoft Press, founded the Melbourne System Center,...
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