A million Kinects are watching you while waiting for Gears of War to arrive

Microsoft's Kinect hasn't been a huge hit at my house – once our initial curiosity about the system was sated it's been sitting unused – but clearly we're not a typical household. Yesterday Microsoft issued a press release saying that they've sold 1 million Kinect controllers in the first 10 days of sales and they're on track to hit their target of 5 million by the end of the year. Kinect is a hit! You can read the full press release for more details. With Black Friday right around the corner Microsoft better get busy restocking the retailers; it seems to be sold out at a few online retailers I checked and co-workers tell me local brick and mortar retail shops are out of stock, too. Maybe Microsoft is hoping to sell Xbox 360 with Kinect bundles rather than just the controller (those seem to be available).

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Meanwhile, back at the privacy ranch, there's been something of a ruckus brewing after Microsoft Xbox COO/CFO Dennis Durkin told investors that Kinect presents a great opportunity for targeted ads. Durkin said:

“We can cater which content we present to 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.”

Keep in mind that Kinect is able to determine who a user is via facial recognition, so it can tell which family member is watching (or doing) what. A little bit creepy eh? Microsoft quickly attempted to spin things back to a consumer friendly place, telling The Wall Street Journal:

“Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE do not use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes. Microsoft has a strong track record of implementing some of the best privacy protection measures in the industry. We place great importance on the privacy of our customers’ information and the safety of their experiences.”

So whether Durkin was misinforming investors or Microsoft is misinforming consumers, someone is going to wind up unhappy. I'm just glad I hooked Kinect up to a spare 360 that's never on unless we're playing Kinect. I don't want that thing observing me while I'm watching Netflix or something. Because there's no possible way for Netflix or Microsoft to know what I'm watching without a camera staring at me. It's not like they're sending the content to me or anything like that. Oh wait... Sarcasm aside, there are things they can't know without Kinect, like whether I'm watching alone or with other people in the room, but I'm having trouble getting too worked up about what Kinect can or can't see when I'm sitting in front of a game console. Nor am I really horrified at the idea of ads targeted to me. If I'm going to have to watch an ad anyway, I'd just as soon have it be about something I'm interested in. Anyway I really won't be too worried about Kinect watching me until I start seeing Kinect support in core games, meaning I'll be using it frequently (and hopefully moving it to the 'main' Xbox in the living room). That time may be coming sooner than we thought. IGN claims that next month at the Spike TV Videogame Awards Microsoft will announce new Kinect titles, including Gears of War for Kinect. IGN is unsure if this is a new SKU or a retrofit to an existing Gears of War game. I still think that's when Kinect will really 'hit' with hardcore gamers: when you have a controller in your hands for firing guns and moving around, but additional Kinect controls that help supplement the action (leaning to peer around corners, using voice commands to give orders to AI support characters, emulating 'touch controls' for manipulating inventory, and so on). Of course if they keep selling a million of the things every 10 days I guess they don't really need to change a thing. The big question with Kinect right now is how long people will be playing Dance Central and Kinect Sports. The Nintendo Wii sold like hotcakes for a long time, but a lot of them wound up collecting dust once the newness wore off. Microsoft needs to work hard to keep that from happening with Kinect if it wants to get a rich ecosystem of third party game publishers supporting the system. Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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