Kinect isn’t racist, and it’s not spying on you, Microsoft promises – Yahoo! News

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Kinect isn’t racist, and it’s not spying on you, Microsoft promises – Yahoo! News

Seems like no major gadget launch goes by without a little controversy, and Microsoft’s marvelous new motion- and face-detecting camera is no exception.

By far the biggest ruckus was sparked by GameSpot, which noted in a recent story that the Kinect camera had trouble recognizing two “dark-skinned” GameSpot staffers even after multiples tries and calibrations, while “lighter-skinned” users were “consistently” identified with no problems.

While the employees in question were still able to jump around and play games like every other Kinect tester, the camera only sporadically identified the face of one of the gamers, while Kinect completely failed to ID the other — a glaring problem, GameSpot said, given that one of the most highly touted features of Kinect is that it’s supposed to recognize users and sign them in automatically.

The glitch brought to mind an episode from late last year, when webcams with facial recognition features manufactured by HP were said to have trouble identifying people with dark skin tones.

That led to allegations that HP’s webcam technology was “racist,” and sure enough, a similar controversy soon descended upon Kinect.

Microsoft’s response to the GameSpot article went along the same lines as HP’s explanation for its webcam woes: namely that lighting, not skin color, was the culprit.

“Kinect works with people of all skin tones,” Microsoft told GameSpot. “And just like a camera, optimal lighting is best. Anyone experiencing issues with facial recognition should adjust their lighting settings, as instructed in the Kinect Tuner.”

Also coming to Kinect’s defense was Consumer Reports, which conducted its own tests using two players of “different skin tones” and concluded that Kinect’s facial recognition issues are “related to low-level lighting” rather than the color of your skin:

Essentially, the Kinect recognized both players at light levels typically used in living rooms at night and failed to recognize both players when the lights were turned down lower. So far, we did not experience any instance where one player was recognized and the other wasn’t under the same lighting conditions.

Kinect users are well advised to “turn on as many room lights as required to see room furniture or other objects on the floor,” Consumer Reports warns — partly so the Kinect camera can see you but also so you don’t stub your toe on some obstacle lurking in the dark.

Next up: Is Kinect spying on you? After all, the motion-sensing Kinect camera sits in front your TV, aimed directly at your living-room sofa, and it’s attached to your Xbox 360 — which just so happens to be connected to the Internet.

So … if you look closely into the lens of the Kinect camera, will you see Steve Ballmer peering back, taking careful notes on everything you and your kids are doing in your living room? My wife, for one, is utterly convinced that it’s true, although she’s stopped short of asking me to throw a sheet over the thing.

Speaking with the bloggers at Kotaku, Microsoft’s Alex Kipman explained that Kinect will never send photos of you gyrating to Dance Central or white-water rafting in Kinect Adventures back to Microsoft HQ. In fact, the only Kinect info that ever would be sent to Microsoft —  and only with your express permission — is anonymized troubleshooting data.

“By default we don’t listen or look at anything,” Kipman promises in the Kotaku post. “No data is ever sent back to Microsoft. Period. Full stop.”

Kipman also pointed out that the little green light on the front of the Kinect unit will warn you whenever the camera’s on — and when your Xbox 360 console is off, so is Kinect.

Maybe so, but that hasn’t stopped my wife from eyeing Kinect warily. Luckily for me, though, she’s now hopelessly addicted to Kinect Bowling.

GameSpot: Kinect has problems recognizing dark-skinned users?
Consumer Reports: Consumer Reports debunks the ‘racist’ Kinect
Kotaku: Microsoft Says Kinect Won’t Invade Your Privacy

— Ben Patterson is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.

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