The Basement Files

I’m no conspiracy freak, but I’m not gullible, either


Greetings readers, residents and NSA data collection specialists, I am back from the premier electronic entertainment expo of the year, the “Electronic Entertainment Expo,” or, E3 for short. And by “back from” I mean “disconnected from Internet live streams and emerged from my basement to change my shirt and spray my armpits because they were getting a little ripe.”

E3, for those of you who actually have lives, is a veritable Christmas for us nerds whose only social interaction comes from “Pwning n00bs” over the Internet and pointing out that no, that isn’t a typo, and the occasional trip to a cigar lounge, because some of us nerds happen to be a bit more refined than others.

This year, however, was a bit more special, because not only did companies showcase the brand new set of games that I’ll end up spending my hard earned money on instead of investing in something like silver, but new hardware with which to play them on. Sure, this basically makes the last generation of games obsolete, and makes the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on them over the years pretty much a waste. But have you seen these graphics? A machine powerful enough to accurately render the way back-hair sways in the breeze is one I want in my home. With a caveat.

The two big guns in the console race at the moment are Sony Playstation 4 (PS4,) and Microsoft Xbox-one (Xbone.) With the PS4, it is pretty much gaming as usual. In fact, it was a major selling point during their massive presentation. Do you like playing your games? Great, continue doing it the same way you’ve done it for years. The fact that talking point got the most applause of any presentation up to that point says a lot, but things like Digital Rights Management (DRM,) used game compatibility and required Internet connectivity are a discussion for another time. Right now, I want to talk about the Xbox-one’s required peripheral: the Kinect.

The Kinect is nothing new. The current Xbox-360 has one. It is a state-of-the-art camera and 3D sensor that can read your every movement, how many people are in the room with you and how attentive you are to particular things. It could be used on a select few games as a “full-body controller” as well. This was optional on the Xbox-360, but for Xbox-one, in order for you to play anything, even a game that doesn’t use the camera, it needs to be attached to the system.

This fact drew scrutiny, as Microsoft had filed a patent a few years back for this technology, saying it would be used to basically spy on you. How long you looked at ads, how attentive you where to certain game types and even how many people where in the room with you, to potentially ensure the game or movie you are watching was not being watched by more people than you bought the rights too. Sounds crazy, but please feel free to look it up. It is Patent Application Number 20120278904, filed Nov. 1, 2012.

This raised a bunch of red flags, and at the time, upset us gamers because we thought this would serve to make life miserable when we wanted to just play a stupid game. Well, that was before Microsoft was named in Project Prism, that is. With the current NSA spying scandal unraveling before us, seeing that our phone calls and emails were being kept without our knowledge, one has to ask: If the patent is there specifically to monitor users, and Microsoft is (or rather, has to be) compliant with whatever the government asks of it, that little “conspiracy theory” part of my brain kicks on and says, “What if?”

Microsoft recently released information stating that they are not going to “spy” on you, the sensor itself can be turned off and other info adjusted within the systems privacy settings, but that “What if” question won’t go away. They may not now, but if these systems get into a lot of homes, and the NSA says “Turn the cameras on,” what stops them from doing so without telling us?

Or worse, what if hackers get into the system and start peeping away? Then again, is it any different from having a laptop with a built-in webcam? Wait, didn’t a school in Philadelphia get sued for doing just that?

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’m not completely gullible as well. The technology is there, and I have no doubt will be abused at by someone at some point. To not think so is naïve, in my humble opinion. Sure, I have nothing to hide, but I still don’t want anyone spying on me while I’m trying to relax, most likely sans pants. I will say one thing though. If a picture of my butt ends up online because of technology like this, I will sue theirs.

Chris Hamble is a freelance writer and humor columnist serving newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and is a lifelong Stillwater resident.