/ Technology

Kinect camera – a step too far for targeted advertising?

Xbox Kinect camera

You’ve just popped a camera into your living room. It knows what you look like, your sex and age – how would you feel if this data was used for targeted advertising? Microsoft’s Kinect could take up the challenge.

Microsoft launched Kinect for the Xbox 360 last week – a camera that tracks your whole body movements for motion-controlled gaming, without a controller.

However, the company’s chief operating officer, Dennis Durkin, has now hinted at the camera’s potential to go beyond gaming. Using the camera’s data, it could choose the ads it shows you based on who you are:

‘How many people are in the room when an ad is shown? How many people are in the room when a game is being played? When you add this sort of device to a living room, there’s a bunch of business opportunities that come with that,’ Durkin said.

Of course, many of us have had cameras in our homes for some time – either through webcams, or cameras on other games consoles, such as Sony’s PlayStation Eye.

Where does Kinect differ?

As far as tracking individual people, Kinect isn’t actually that different. Even your webcam could track your facial features. But, unlike Kinect, your webcam isn’t used for this purpose (at least you’d hope not).

Kinect actually uses facial and voice recognition technology, not only for the games, but to sign players into their account. This means it knows who you are when you walk into the room, as opposed to your partner, friend or daughter. Not only that, but in games like Dance Central it records your impressive ‘moves’ in order to play them back to you.

All of this suggests that Kinect not only records your behaviour, it knows who you are, your approximate age, how many kids you’ve got, how big your room is, even what football shirt you might be wearing. As Durkin points out, ads could then specifically tailor to your fandom during sporting events.

Could this inspire an Orwellian future, where Kinect will talk to you: ‘Hello Dave, it looks like you’ve put on some weight this week. Maybe you should go on the new Slim Fast plan? I’ll add it to your online shopping basket.’ Or ‘Hello Dave’s wife, have you tried Victoria Beckham’s latest fragrance?’

Is traditional targeted advertising any different?

Although this all sounds a little scary, is this any different from Google using your search data, or even Facebook exploiting your profile details, for targeted ads? Our legal expert Georgina Nelson had this to say about Kinect’s potential to advertise:

‘At the moment online targeted advertising is made on the basis of presumptions – if you visit that website, enter that search term, it’s presumed you have certain interests. But with a camera in your home they’d be able to see so much of what’s currently guess work. This kind of information could be gold dust for advertisers and thus tempting for companies like Microsoft.’

Thankfully, Microsoft has performed an about turn on Durkin’s comments, telling the Wall Street Journal that it does ‘not use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes’ and that it places ‘great importance on the privacy of [its] customers’ information.’

That’s certainly good to hear, but with the growth of camera technology in our homes, are we doomed to a world where companies not only know everything about us, but will use this information to tell us what we want?


In a way people have already surrendered when they use devices like this to go on line in the first place.
At least this debate has brought the issue into the light for a moment though the initial level of response to the topic suggests a low level of interest. It is entirely possible that both sides of the ‘we will / we will not’ debate can be satisfied. If the machine stores the adverts and only presents them during games according to who is playing and only presents them at ‘likely’ moments, e.g. as hoardings at the side of the road or in rooms to which the game takes you then it might be argued that it is ‘just like real life’. Some might even argue that it ‘could’ protect players. For example, if the game set up detected that the likely player was say 12 years old, the back ground adverts ‘might’ avoid smoking, gambling, drinking, sexy underwear, etcetera advertisements. However they might just as likely features ‘Gloucester Old Spot Airlines’

pickle says:
17 November 2010

I think this “spy in the room” is obnoxious and should not be permitted. It’s just another way of prying into our existence – enough people already know all about us and it should be left at that.

So you think it “should not be permitted” Pickle? If you think you have the right to impose your views about that on others then you are as bad as the people who are “prying”. We should all have choice. If you don’t want it, fine; don’t buy it!

If anyone wants to install such a Big Brother device in their living room they deserve all the consequencies. Much the same for using Facebook and Google. Dont blame anyone but yourself.

We don’t. You seem to imply that people who use facebook etc. are naive. For some it is a considered risk that they are prepared to take. I certainly don’t need an online nanny thanks 🙂