Microsoft revised one of its most controversial policies for the Xbox One this week, saying that the console will now function without always being plugged into the additional Kinect hardware.
In another reversal of its original policies for the Xbox One, Microsoft said this week that the next-generation video game console will not require a persistent connection to the Kinect motion-tracking device in order to function properly.
Previously, Microsoft insisted that the Kinect was an "essential and integrated" part of the Xbox One, meaning that it had to be plugged in at all times — even if it was turned off — for users to be able to play games or watch TV with the console.
The shift in Microsoft's Kinect policy comes after several weeks of heightened scrutiny for the company following revelations that the company had worked with the NSA and FBI to provide both agencies with encryption workarounds needed to access communications though several of its popular services such , including Skype video calls, Outlook email and online chats, and the cloud storage service SkyDrive. It also represents another victory for gamers who were vocally opposed to the Xbox One's DRM from the very first announcements of the policies.
Microsoft's chief product officer for the Xbox, Marc Whitten, revealed the policy shift in an interview with IGN, saying that "the console will still function if Kinect isn't plugged in, although you won't be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor."
"You have the ability to completely turn the sensor off in your settings," Whitten added. "When in this mode, the sensor is not collecting any information. Any functionality that relies on voice, video, gesture or more won't work. We still support using it for IR blasting in this mode. You can turn the sensor back on at any time through settings, and if you enter into a required Kinect experience (like Kinect Sports Rivals for instance), you'll get a message asking if you want to turn the sensor back on in order to continue."
Speaking to NBC News last month for a story about the Xbox One and Kinect's privacy policies, Microsoft maintained that, "just like other devices with cameras or mics, whether or not you can unplug or remove it from the device is immaterial if the product is configured in a way that protects users’ privacy."
Albert Penello, Microsoft's senior director of product planning, reiterated this stance in a post on the popular online gaming forum NeoGAF, saying, "there will be a lot of user control" for how the Kinect functions and interacts with the Xbox One. However, he went on to admit that there were certain scenarios — such as someone accidentally dropping or breaking the Kinect and then not being able to play the Xbox One at all — that Microsoft's original policy hadn't quite provided for.
"The thing we all understood, and hence this change, is that there are some scenarios where people just may not be comfortable," he wrote. "We wanted people to be 100 percent comfortable, so we allow the sensor to be unplugged. And clearly the 'it dropped' scenario is possible."
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.
First published August 13 2013, 9:27 AM