Xbox One: The Top 5 Creepiest Features In Microsoft's Next-Gen Console

on May 22 2013 7:26 PM

Microsoft recently lifted the veil on its Xbox 360 successor, giving the world a first look at the Xbox One. The new Xbox attempts to incorporate a level of voice control technology (that companies clamor for these days) into the Xbox's gaming and entertainment ecosystem, and Microsoft's event focused on how an updated Kinect camera and microphone will allow users a whole new way to interact with their televisions as well as their games.

Microsoft revealed that the Xbox One will have varying power levels, and will remain powered even when turned off. In a sleep mode, Microsoft says the Xbox One will be able to download content and make updates to games and apps while not in use. The console does not have to always be online, but it may need to be connected at least once a day. The reality is that most users will just leave the Xbox One constantly connected to the Internet via a network cable or WiFi. So what could possibly go wrong in this scenario?

XboxD_Logo_Consle_Sensr_controller_F_GreenBG_RGB_2013 The new Xbox One raises several questions about user privacy.  Courtesy / Microsoft

1 - The Xbox One will always be powered on

Even at rest, the Xbox One will always be powered on. When you press the power button or ask the device to shut down, it will actually enter a low-power sleep mode so that Microsoft and developers can install game and app updates overnight. Hopefully, this means you won't have to download and install an update every time you want to hop into “Call of Duty: Ghosts” matchmaking.

The Xbox One's constant power state also means that at any time of the day, the console is susceptible to attack. If you are at home playing a game or watching television (or both, thanks to Xbox One’s "Snap Mode"), you might suspect an attempt to hack into your console due to a sudden drop in network speed or change in functionality. However, should a nefarious user try to access the device while you are out and about, they have a lot more time to unravel your network security and gain access to your Xbox One.

XboxOne_RGB_stacked Microsoft has said that the Xbox One will have several different power levels.  Courtesy / Microsoft

2 - The Xbox One will always be connected

Not only will the Xbox One always be powered on, but it will almost always be online. Even if Microsoft does not require the console to be online to function, the reality is that with either a network cable or built-in WiFi, most users will hardly ever take the console off of their networks.

And again, whenever the Xbox One is online, it is open to hacking threats. Whereas the Xbox 360 and most other computing devices would completely power off when shut down, the Xbox One will always be accessible via your home router and whatever IP address is assigned to it.

Xbox_Console_RHS78_TransBG_RGB_2013 The Xbox One has built-in Wifi.  Courtesy / Microsoft

3 - The new Kinect sensor will have an advanced camera

The Xbox One will ship out with an updated Kinect sensor that sits on top of your television. That means that should a hacker get access to your new console, he or she will have a full-HD view of your living room, or wherever the console is located.

In addition the regular HD view, the new Kinect sensor will have an “active IR” feature that can transmit and receive non-visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as infrared. That means that the Xbox One will also be able to “see” in the dark.

Xbox_Sensor_RHS78_TransBG_RGB_2013 The Xbox One's Kinect Sensor will be able to see and hear even after lights out.  Courtesy / Microsoft

In addition to detecting infrared and heat signatures, the new Kinect can also detect your heartbeat by changes in your complexion. Whether or not someone hacks into your console, the fact that the folks in Redmond can watch your heartbeat is way creepier than having the Google Maps van cruising around your neighborhood.

4 - The Xbox is always listening

The new Kinect sensor for the Xbox One will have a microphone to activate all kinds of interesting voice functions. Saying “Xbox, ESPN” will cause the console to change to the sports network. However, to make this work properly, the microphone will have to be running most if not all of the time.

Anyone who gains access to your Xbox One will not only be able to see everything that you do, but they'll also be able to hear everything going on near your console and throughout your home. If you are not standing directly in front of the Kinect, the microphone will still be able to pick up nearby voices.

2001hal9000 "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." - HAL 9000, from "2001, A Space Odyssey"  Courtesy / MGM

5 - Apps will be available from several developers

The main point of access to your Xbox One will be your Internet router. Hackers will most likely have to gain access to your network to get to your console. If your router is secure, then your Xbox One should be as well. However, since Microsoft will be including applications from third-party developers such as Netflix and Facebook, they might also have to include backdoor access for FBI surveillance.

This means that not only will government agencies be able to snoop in on conversations, but random strangers might be able to as well. They will not only be able to ruin your game of Halo 5, but will also be able to see and hear everything in range of your Kinect sensor.

Each time you install an app, you are also relying on the security of that app. Any "chink in the armor" in an individual app might also compromise the security of your entire console.

How do you feel about the potential threats to privacy raised by the Xbox One? Is the device no different than a smartphone, or do the beefed up specs on the console pose a new threat to users’ security?

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