Warning: Use of Xbox One May Result in Reduced Autonomy

Posted on October 6, 2013

When Microsoft announced the Xbox One would have a Kinect with a camera so sensitive it could read vital signs, I immediately guessed it would be used to monitor emotional responses to television and advertising. Looks like I was correct.

This information will probably be sold as “emotional analytics” which alert brands when and how you reacted to their ad, much like you can see who’s clicking around your website with Google Analytics. This will ultimately enable advertisers make ads which rely on biology (or Buyology, as Martin Lindstrom would say) than value statements…not that elite brands have not figured this out yet. Add the fact that Kinect is able to identify you and your voice, it means Microsoft will have possibly more knowledge about how you personally react to advertising. Yes, all those things you feel but don’t want to admit to yourself? Yeah, Microsoft will know about those, and will know it was you feeling them. It’s possible Microsoft will know more about you than you know about yourself.

While I’m usually one to advocate the use of big data to improve ad targeting (hey, if I have to look at ads, might as well be things I might like), this undeniably feels more than a little icky. Clicking “skip ad” on YouTube as soon as it appears is a sufficient signal of disinterest, in my opinion. In the hands of an adept (and/or unscrupulous) advertiser, the information asymmetry possible by tapping into involuntary autonomic reactions we may not even be aware are happening could result in ads (or campaigns) which literally erode your autonomy until you feel compelled to buy the product.

Microsoft is far from the only company trying to do this. Fan though I am of Google, hardware sleuths discovered their upcoming Google Glass can monitor your gaze and measure your retina’s dilation, much to my disappointment. Followers of neurological psychology know that you can measure brain activity (particularly effort) by measuring retinal contraction. It’s entirely probable Google is doing the same thing.

And if you think it’s tin-foil talking, check out Martin Lindstrom’s work and you’ll see there’s already a cottage industry devoted to discovering just the things I’m talking about…and Microsoft will introduce the ability to do it at big data scales with the Xbox One. Even more fiendishly, we’ll be paying for the privilege of giving this information away.

It’s a brave new world out there…hopefully it won’t be one where private entities quickly learn how to use our own bodies against us.

Via Kotaku and Ad Age.