Xbox One + NSA = nothing. But it'll still hurt Xbox One.
For months, the Xbox One has been getting slammed, but now that the DRM has been axed, some of the other details of the system are being brought into the forefront.
Namely, the requirement of the Kinect camera. Of course, it didn't help that the exact same day Microsoft announced their DRM and 24-hour policies on June 7th, another news article broke regarding PRISM, a program conducted by the NSA to mine data. Microsoft was/is a big part of PRISM since its creation in 2007, though Microsoft denied it. Other articles surfaced to remind people that Microsoft got busted for spying on Skype users' conversations, and when people heard that the Xbox One's video chat would be done via Skype, they started to put together the pieces.
A lot of people got scared. Granted, it wasn't too big of a leap of logic. Online-required console + camera-required console + partnership with NSA = spying, right? Although the online requirement has died (well, you do still need to connect it for a one-time patch), the fear remains. Some people are genuinely nervous about their privacy. Other gamers think the fears are silly and unfounded.
First, let's debunk some of the dumber statements being thrown around. One of the most popular ones goes something like this:
"So maybe you should get rid of your smartphone too if you're so afraid of spies. Hurr hurr!"
This is silly. We're comparing a phone - which the majority of people need in their day-to-day lives - with an optional gaming console. If I want a cell phone, I have options. There are dozens of smartphones that don't have a camera (if someone wanted to avoid a camera). On the other hand, I have no option to buy a Kinect-less Xbox One. I have no option of buying an Xbox console made by Samsung or Apple. There is no choice.
Not to mention, it's a bit of a breach of logic to argue "you have a camera on your phone. Therefore you're a hypocrite if you don't want a camera on your videogame console!"
The main issue is that people are buying a product that may spy on them. Privacy is important to a lot of people, and although many of us freely give up that privacy via Skype chats, emails, or Facebook, people still want that illusion of choice. The notion that a camera attached to my game console could be recording data without my knowledge is in a different league compared to my wife voluntarily uploading pictures of my vacation to Shutterfly.
Privacy is important to people, and it extends beyond gaming. There are some people who don't care, there are some people who do care, there are some people who are paranoid, but the vast majority of people get a bit antsy when they know there is someone spying on them. To dismiss these concerns with a casual #dealwithit reeks of arrogance.
Ultimately, while I do find it disturbing that the Xbox One COULD be used to spy on its users, it does not matter because I doubt that it WILL be used to spy on its users in any significant numbers.
The biggest problem is perception.
Yes, Kinect can be turned off, but it's still required. Yes, it's not always listening, except that it IS always listening for you to say "Xbox ON".
The target market for the Xbox One is North America. Most in Europe and Japan have already written it off. And yet, a hot topic in America is the Patriot Act nearing its expiration and whether intruding on privacy is worth it anymore. Even if Xbox One never, ever, ever intrudes on your privacy and sends data to Microsoft or the NSA, the camera is still there, staring at you, watching you. The perception will be that Microsoft is spying on you, even if they aren't. The sentiment that Xbox One will spy on you is all over Youtube, Facebook, and even The Daily Show's Back in Black segment (here: http://www.youtube.com/watc... ). Popular conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones (who has several million viewers/subscribers between Youtube and his own website) are already spreading FUD and fear regarding the Xbox One camera. Closer to launch, you can bet your game library that larger news outlets like Fox, CNN, BBC, and ITV will give their own news story, even if that news story is titled with an innocent "Is Xbox One Spying On YOU?"
Perception is the problem. The damage to the PERCEPTION of the Xbox brand will last years. Naysayers are quick to retort "People will forget it. By launch time, no one will remember this stuff". They won't? People still remember the PSN hack. People still remember the RROD. And it doesn't even matter if the perception is false. Once it takes hold, it becomes very difficult to shake. There are people who STILL think the SNES versions of Mortal Kombat don't have blood. There are people who STILL think that E.T is what caused the console market to crash. Perception is powerful.
When a console has bad perception, it creates a snowball effect (I already blogged about how the Xbox One is now the media's new "whipping boy" like the PS3 was back in 2006-2009). You think it's bad NOW? Oh ho ho boy, just you wait. Remember the "OtherOS" debacle? Sony took out OtherOS which affected, at a max, a few thousand users, and look what happened. It led to the PS3 getting hacked and PSN going down for a month. The media had a field day.
Imagine what will happen (and this WILL happen, mark my words) when someone gets their first "Recommendation" or "custom advertisement" on the dashboard. Let's say someone is muching on a bag of Sun Chips and a new ad pops up saying "You like chips? Buy Dorito Fusion and get a free Halo 5 map". Whether it's correct or not, people are going to assume the Xbox One spied on them. And then it will snowball. More people will show more "proof" that the Xbox One is spying (like showing a T-shirt of Big Bang Theory and then screencapping a "TV recommended for you" showing the Big Bang Theory TV show). Microsoft will issue an official statement that says something like "your privacy is important to us. We never use the Xbox One Kinect to spy on your or intrude on your privacy or to collect advertising data", but whether they're being truthful or not won't matter one bit. People will just reply "uh huh. Suuuuuure" and continue posting pictures of their Gundam DVD collection and then screencapping recommendations for Titanfall and Pacific Rim, saying "see? See? Kinect is spying on me!" Perception is quite powerful once it takes hold.
And it will be even worse when bigger news outlets decide to jump on it. The mass media is getting a bit bored ragging on violent videogames. They need a new whipping boy. Oh? What's this? A videogame that SPIES on you? A videogame that can detect your facial expressions, your heartbeat, recognize your voice, count how many people are in the room? My goodness! We have to warn the general public! We have to warn the defenseless single mothers and grade-school children who might be EXPOSED to this travesty! Although these claims are exaggerated, we're talking about the same mass-media that claimed Mass Effect had "full blown uncensored nudity and sex littered throughout the game". This is the same mass-media that calls videogames "murder simulators and training tools for serial killers". You think they won't go a bit overboard describing a camera-required console that can recognize voice commands and your facial features?
You honestly think the mass-media isn't going to jump to wild conclusions regarding a videogame console with a REQUIRED camera? You think it'll all blow over before launch?
If you think it'll all blow over, I have someone for you to meet. His name is "2006 Sony fanboy". Everyone said Giant Enemy Crab and 599 US Dollars would blow over by launch, and the PS3 still sold well, but the perception remained. Everyone said "no gamez" would blow over, and it did eventually, but the "no gamez" reputation lasted for years. People are saying the lopsided online polls, the negative articles, the fan outrage, the bad PR, and the lopsided preorders all will just blow over. Those are some strong winds you're hoping for.
I doubt the NSA will spy on us through the Xbox One, and I don't think proving or disproving it will matter. What matters is perception, and right now the Xbox One has a whole lot of negative perception swirling around it. It makes no difference if Xbox One will really spy on us. What matters is a lot of people THINK it will spy on us, and runaway rumors and unfounded fears are often more dangerous than the truth.