Xbox or Google Glass: Which One Is Watching You?


In a world of ever more invasive technology, two products raise the creep-out factor several notches above the pack. Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One and (maybe to a greater degree) Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Glass are getting their share of negative headlines, from shareholder meetings to the response following leaked National Security Agency surveillance policies. The developments are enough for some people to wonder which tech company’s gadget is better at spying on you.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Xbox One, the gaming console has its share of invasive tendencies. Stephen Totilo noted the key turnoffs on the console’s ability to see in the dark; the aptitude to pick out a user’s voice in a crowded, noisy room; and a method of reading heart rates by scanning the user’s face. On top of these features, Microsoft seemed intent on the idea that the Xbox One would always be on and ready to notice a user at any moment. (The company was forced to reassure users they could actually power off the console).

The questions surrounding Google Glass — wearable tech fashioned as eyeglasses — were no less intriguing. Would the device be able to pick out certain human faces? Google claimed it wouldn’t, yet the voices of discordant shareholders did plenty to distress CEO Larry Page at Google’s annual meeting in May. Page compared the public’s reaction to Google Glass to how it experienced cellphones. Didn’t cellphones have cameras, too? They did, but not attached to someone’s head, and those cameras (mostly) aren’t operable via voice commands. The intensity of these concerns picked up when details of the NSA’s PRISM program were leaked to newspapers.

At first, government concerns about the capabilities of Glass and other devices seemed like genuine efforts to protect the privacy of citizens. Following the disclosures of Edward Snowden, the government contractor who leaked the NSA documents, people wouldn’t be far off in believing government concern was more like a fact-finding mission. It’s not out of the question, considering revelations about PRISM and secret surveillance.

The Big Brother implications are distressing for nearly everyone. Microsoft’s much-hyped gaming console already had its share of complaints regarding the nature of the device, while Google has felt the heat related to the intrusive nature of its search engine tracking for years. The bad timing of these two products could lead to an awkward summer for both companies.

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