Microsoft vs Your Rights - Can they be Trusted?


By: Ricard Julianti

Have you heard? Microsoft removed the DRM restrictions for the Xbox One! Gaming is saved and it’s okay to love Microsoft! They won’t try to violate our rights ever again! The internet won, right? Well, not exactly…

You see, rumors about the DRM policies were flying around long before Microsoft revealed the Xbox One in May. Comment sections on those rumor articles around the internet were filled with people saying how stupid MS would have to be in order to try something like that. There was a rumor in early May about an internal memo sent out to Microsoft employees that supposedly debunked the “always online” rumor. A man even lost his job after becoming an internet meme when he told fans to “Deal with it” while referring to online restrictions.

After all of the negative press and word of mouth the still-unconfirmed console received, you would think Microsoft would come out and officially denounce the rumors if they weren’t true. Instead they let the flames burn far and wide, even tossing a barrel of gasoline in the mix when they confirmed the rumors on May 21st. Gamers went so far as to create a Twitter hashtag campaign, that got noticed by the mainstream media, in an attempt to keep DRM restrictions off of the Playstation 4 and for Microsoft to reverse their policies.

If all you want is gaming, you’ll still pick us. The super core guys, they buy everything,” they said, confident that once they showed the Xbox One’s E3 line-up people wouldn’t mind their rights being stripped away. They were wrong. Once pre-orders for both the PS4 and X1 were available, it was clear which console was favored regardless of games or other features. This was the key decision in Microsoft’s turn-around. Money.

If Microsoft was actually listening to the complaints of fans, they would have done everything in their power to remove the restrictions before revealing the console. Instead, they say that those without adequate internet can simply buy the Xbox 360. Despite claims from Major Nelson (at the 11:33 mark), removing a 24-hour online check and the one-time transfer is in fact a simple matter. Lines of code in the system kernel would need to be changed, but nothing would need to be done from a hardware standpoint. Four days after his statement, MS reversed their policies. Thing is they forgot a major factor, the Kinect sensor.

The new Kinect has the ability to function in a low-power state so the system can be turned on with a simple command of “Xbox. On.” This brought up major concerns with people since they want their privacy to be protected. The Kinect sensor is required for the Xbox One to function so you can’t simply keep it in the box and never use it. However, it does have the ability to be turned off so that it doesn’t even listen passively. It doesn’t record conversations, upload them to the cloud or anything violating, so it seems.

Even though it only listens passively while on, it still hears everything regardless of command. In the past, nothing short of a firewall from a computer security company like McAfee would prevent a hacker from activating a webcam that’s connected to a computer. Even when those webcams are completely off they can be accessed. These PC’s usually run the Windows operating system which predominantly uses an x86 architecture, exactly like the Xbox One. Windows itself has been plagued with viruses and other methods of hacking from the start and the Xbox One uses the same kernel for one of its three operating systems. Sadly, people with nefarious intentions aren’t the only ones people should be worried about.

Microsoft claims in recent ads that “Your privacy is our priority.” If by that they mean “Our priority is how to get around your right to privacy,” then they are absolutely right. Edward Snowden, former technical contractor for the National Security Agency, discovered a program put in place in 2007 called PRISM. PRISM operates as a domestic surveillance program where the NSA gathers information using “extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information.” This includes things such as emails, social media outlets, photos, videos, voice-over-IP chats and even private phone calls.

Voice-over-IP should raise some major red flags as that is the technical term for what Skype is. If you say, “But Microsoft wouldn’t allow the government to collect our private information like that! It’s illegal!” you would only be half right. It is in fact illegal in the United States according to the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. The 4th Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” which basically boils down to, “The government cannot hold or search you or your property without a warrant or probable cause.” Some legislators claim that the legality of PRISM hinges on the Patriot Act, but if that is true then the Patriot Act is unconstitutional as well. However, this is reaching into a big political discussion which no one wants.

Microsoft was directly implicated in the scandal as being partners with the NSA in handing over information about their customers. This is their initial statement regarding the program, “We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.” While that is all well and good, it is also a blatant lie.

Recently, documents have surfaced that show just how closely Microsoft has been working with the NSA on information collection. If they only gave customer data when it involved “specific accounts or identifiers,” why would they work with the NSA to bypass encryption on Outlook, provide PRISM with the ability to collect Skype video calls and allow the NSA access to their SkyDrive cloud service? Nothing there involves “specific accounts or identifiers” and instead covers the services in their entirety. Microsoft has basically handed them the keys to the castle.

Why should the Xbox One be excluded when it runs on the Windows kernel, uses Outlook for every XBL account, has integrated Skype as a major selling point, and connects to Microsoft’s Cloud where the data would be readily available to anyone holding the keys? If your average hacker can access powered-off webcams using something as simple as a malicious email, think about what the NSA could do without having to jump through hoops. It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but the NSA already has access to every one of those aspects outside of the Xbox One. One bright spot with the 180 Microsoft pulled on the DRM is that you only have to connect the console to the internet once to download the Day 1 update. Yes, it still requires a connection…but only once.

So can Microsoft be trusted to protect our privacy and not send any and all personal data to the NSA? Well, that’s for you to decide. Personally, I don’t think they can be and hopefully the exposure they are getting in this leads to some changes. Of course judging by their history, they will only change if they start to see any chance of money being lost. Even then it may take a while and they would more than likely work out some other secret deal while putting up a front of change.

If the negative press and complaints from fans had any effect on Microsoft’s decision, instead of just removing the online requirement (kind of), they would have done more to quell the fears of people’s private lives being invaded; not get exposed in an international scandal involving the disclosure of private information.

Wave hello to the NSA everyone, they’re probably watching.

By Jonathan Suedmeyer a.k.a. “Ricard Julianti”

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Author: RicardJulianti (11 Posts)

14 Responses to Microsoft vs Your Rights - Can they be Trusted?

  1. Nathan says:

    Nice article Ricard! And did you guys know the NSA has software in every Windows OS that lets them see what you're doing and potentially compromise your OS if need they feel the need?

    • RicardJulianti says:

      I was going to mention that, but I couldn't figure out how to word it in my searches so I could source it. Oh well….

      Share the article around….I feel like it bears discussing. And thanks!

  2. Matthew Wesley says:

    Hence why Microshit wants people to always be connected to internet… and the forced usage of the kinect… stupid people who continuosly want xbone. Dummies!

  3. Matt says:

    Has everyone forgotten Sony's Rootkit scandal? They set up hardrives to lock out people downloading music off the internet from Sony's music labels, even if it was a legal download, the rootkit could and did kick in, and it was nearly impossible to remove.

    If you think Sony is some sort of saint in this whole mess, you have another thing coming, you know that delay you have in your picture showing up when you turn your Bluray player on?

    Did you know that that delay is due to a form of DRM that makes sure that you are connecting a legitimate licensed Blu Ray player to your TV(and if the software in the blu ray player bugs out, you won't be able to use it), and it was proprietary Sony implementation, everyone that vilifies Microsoft, but praises Sony has their head in the clouds.

    • RicardJulianti says:

      I honestly had no idea about any of that. Pretty messed up. I honestly haven't watched a Bluray in a few months (weird…) so I don't recall that little pause….guess I'll have to check it out.

      Also notice that I never once mentioned Sony in the article. I absolutely think they are getting FAR too much credit for announcing that they are sticking with the norm. It's ridiculous really. "OMG Sony is the only one that allows used games!!! Dey r deh BEST" Umm…..nope…check thyself before one wrecks thyself, haha.

    • koopzilla says:

      I can agree that Sony is getting a ton of credit for nothing more than seeing what Microsoft did and the following backlash, and simply doing the opposite. I suspect they wanted to basically do the same thing.

      I've never been a huge Sony fan in general. I won't even buy their appliances because everything I have ever had made by them (TV's, stereos, VCR's, DVD players, clock radios…) breaks after a couple years, and I take really good care of my stuff. How their stuff is so much more expensive than everything else, I will never understand. I have had cheap generic DVD players last 10 times as long as Sony ones. I haven't had any problems with Playstation products though, maybe I just got lucky, or they are just higher quality. I'm not planning on getting a PS4 at the moment, and the X-Bone is simply out of the question. So, maybe in 4 or 5 years when the price comes way down, considering what games I want, I might get a PS4. I loved the original Playstation, but the PS2, and PS3 only had a handful of games that I had to have. I especially think the PS2 was way over rated, but that's just me I guess, everyone seemed to love it. I'm considering just fixing up my computer to run newer games, and going with that and Wii U. That way when the next Playstation and X-Box come out I can just upgrade my computer and be playing the same games since basically all Sony and Microsoft do is make the graphics better each time (or in Microsofts case throw in a required spy camera. lol.). And there's really no first party Microsoft or Sony games I can't live without.

  4. Ray01 says:

    I never liked Microsoft as a company & I don't plan on buying an XBone. I'm paranoid enough as it is.
    I'm seriously worried about all the people that are going to buy this spy box & i'm also expecting MS to bring back their DRM restrictions at a later date as well.

    I think EA might have some competition at getting the Golden Poo Award next year, I know i'll be voting for MS.

  5. Titan64 says:

    Thanks for not bringing up the political implications because if I were to say something, it would piss a lot of people off. But that doesn't matter, the fact that they just willing give out information makes me to believe they cannot be trusted. Same with the Playstation 3 and the outage in which I believe they told people their information was compromised way after the issue was resolved. I don't like that because that gives the implication that they really don't care about my information in which I entrusted them to.

    • Revelations4gamers says:

      I do not know about if they were willing or forced to divulge that informationby the govt. I do know that they have a structure that can monitor us in a number of ways on a number of different applications. I am sure they were served with warrants or court orders. All of these big companies never pay taxes like you or I do so they must comply or the govt will let loose the IRS attack dogs on them. What I feel is important in anyone's decision about the Xbox One is that damn Kinect sensor that monitors everything. They say it can be turned off but I am sure it is easily turned on from a remote location. I just don't want a console with a mandatory monitoring system I will never use and do not want. I just wanna play a game and have some fun! Is that so complicated??

    • RicardJulianti says:

      Yeah…anytime political anythings are brought up it tends to turn into a shitshow. Gaming politics are kind of the same way, but since it's just video games, it's less likely to cause negative feelings towards someone as a person depending on their views….unless they are being idiotic fanboys.

      If I remember correctly they told people that their information could have been compromised while it was still down, but it definitely wasn't immediate. They also offered up some sort of security program subscription for a limited time or something like that. I never put any sensitive information into the PSN so it didn't really affect me. However, I'm still extremely hesitant to use my card for anything on the service. I bought a three-month PS+ card at the store and have never bought any PSN games or DLC. The outage happened just a few months after I got my PS3 so it really left an impact.

  6. koopzilla says:

    Great article, man. I don't trust Microsoft one bit. Personally, I have never trusted or liked them, since long before they even made the X-Box. The X-Box One just made it even worse, and all this NSA stuff has only confirmed my lack of trust. I don't even trust that they won't re-implement this stuff in the future, they even said they could at any point re-implement it. I think their plan is to trick a bunch of people into buying it, then start doing that crap. I will never own an X-Bone, and that Kinect will never come into my house.

  7. revelations4gamers says:

    Ricard I feel you are right about Microsoft but the NSA is able to watch everything we do with or without a Xbox One. The can see this message and check on me or you without a warrant. All the monitoring analyst needs is a reason to be curious. We need change at a national level and that begins with voting in politicians that respect the US Constitution and The Bill Of Rights. The NSA is like the KGB of the old USSR which was similar to the Gestapo. But our only vote that counts is our wallets so I feel we should support our beliefs with patronage and purchase. Therefore, I will not be getting an Xbox One. I am not a fanboy of any one company. I simply do not want to give my business to a company that slanders it's competitors through bought and paid puppets (Ex: Sessler and Pachter). If Microsoft had a good product and value they would not have to resort to such unethical measures.

    • RicardJulianti says:

      Yeah, this is more about MS and their willingness to allow the NSA to access things before they are even encrypted and so on more so than the NSA scandal itself. Nintendo and probably Sony wouldn't allow that, so the NSA would have to either gather the information illegally or go ahead and get their warrants if they wanted anything to be admissible in court.

      With the 360, I at least felt like I was getting good value out of what I paid for even if paying for online gaming was a racket. But there is no way I could live with myself paying Microsoft to spy on people and violate laws in the process. There isn't a single game that could sway that decision. You can swear up and down that you only do things when it regards "certain accounts and identifiers" but when you are exposed in a scandal like this, and it's revealed that you worked closely with the NSA to provide them access that would otherwise not be available… lose all trust.

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