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Xbox 360 LIVE… Privacy? What privacy?

by Nick Haywood on 5 December 2005, 09:52

Tags: Xbox 360, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Xbox 360

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qad6i

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Xbox 360s flags ALL your activities to anyone who cares to look!

Now no doubt Microsoft has this totally covered in its Terms and Conditions that you have to agree to when you sign up for an Xbox LIVE account, but did you know just how much information Microsoft shares with other Xbox 360 owners about what you’re doing? Simply put, anyone you’ve been in contact with through Xbox LIVE can subsequently see what you’re up to, regardless of whether they’re in your friends list or not.

We here at HEXUS became a little anxious when the boss sent me a voice message over Xbox LIVE asking what I was doing viewing pictures through Media Connect instead of playing games on my Xbox 360. I assumed he’d made a lucky guess as he knew I was still playing around with the Xbox 360’s media functions, using Media Connect to view stored family photos from my main PC. What I didn’t realise was that he could actually see what I was doing as it was being relayed over Xbox LIVE and showing up in my profile!

Here's me, just online, not doing much... as you and anyone else can see...

Now you might wonder why this would be a problem because surely someone on my friends list would want to know what game I was playing or whether I was online, yes? Well, yes… having a friend know which game I was in is a good thing… except if I’m looking at pictures, I’m not gaming, so why tell everyone? The amount of detail Xbox LIVE passes to others goes way beyond just being helpful in linking you up with other gamers, so far beyond that you could easily regard it as a pretty major intrusion into your privacy.

Now I've used media connect to have a browse of the pics on my PC... as the world can see...

If you were playing games, it’d be understandable to have your profile on display, showing what games you’d played, how far you’d gotten in them, what reputation you had etc etc… All of this info is in your gamer card and relevant to online gaming in general. Where Microsoft crosses the line is when you’re not gaming. Your Xbox 360 will carry on happily reporting everything you’re up to…

Can you guess what I'm doing now?

Fancy listening to some CDs you ripped to your hard drive? Go ahead… Xbox LIVE will let all your mates know that’s what you’re doing. Want to view some pictures? It’ll tell them that too. Want to stop using Xbox LIVE, use media connect and do something totally unrelated to online gaming? Yep, your mates will know about a few seconds later. How about starting up Windows Media Centre to watch some telly, using your Xbox 360 as a media extender? Sure go ahead, all your friends will see that you’ve started up MCE.

This is going too far... I'm shopping! Do you really need to know I'm shopping?

When we first realised the extent and detail of information that was being shared with other Xbox LIVE users, we did a bit of investigating. With the boss on the other end of the phone, I skipped about through my Xbox 360’s functions, each time challenging the boss to tell me what I was doing. Using Media Connect, he told me just a few seconds after I had started that I was viewing pictures… then playing music… then on the Xbox 360 Dashboard and then that I was in Xbox LIVE Marketplace looking for something to download. The sad thing, he was right everytime!