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[Update: Microsoft has responded to the Kinect spying situation]
British spy agency GCHQ has been spotted out for a spy protocol going by the code name “Optic Nerve”. The brunt of the protocol relied heavily on monitoring nearly two million Yahoo! users engaged in webcam chatting sessions, along with the Xbox Kinect, in which a lot of sexually explicit images were recovered.
The Guardian [via Infowars.com] has a really cool article about the “Optic Nerve” protocol based on leaked documents, detailing how tons of average users have had their privacy invaded. You know, because people love it when other people unrightfully spy on their private bits, right?
As noted in the article...
“In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
The worst part about it? Americans aren't exempt from this bit of information prodding. In fact, the article goes on to explicitly state that within their jurisdiction, the GCHQ is taking in all those NSFW webcam chats you've been having with that other person that isn't your wife...
“GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans' images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.”
This invasion of privacy isn't just limited to webcams and smartphones, though. As many gamers have already voiced displeasure at owning an Xbox One that includes the Kinect 2.0 – Microsoft's latest high-tech camera device – due to some feeling it would be used as a surveillance device. Turns out, it's prime bait for being used as a surveillance device.
The Kinect showed up in the GCHQ documents, noting that it had “normal webcam traffic” and also happened to be a part of a much "wider program". Oh yippee.
Microsoft had recently made a public statement noting that any spying being done with the Xbox Kinect was done without their consent, for whatever that's worth.
The “Optic Nerve” protocol isn't just about invading your privacy, or collecting images, but it's also used to scan irises, facial data and other personal identification traits to store and track within the agency's database. Good to know the world's governments care so much about storing and keeping your private data... err, kept?
Even more than that, GCHQ and the NSA have apparently been pooling data. So your wang that you've been showing around with your webcam or Kinect, could be the talk of the offices at both British and American spy agencies. I guess Microsoft was right that the Xbox One would be the new water-cooler around the office... I just don't think most users thought it would be about schlongs and dongs.
Even worse yet is that the GCHQ gets a fairly good pay-per-view style showing of your privates via all those video chats – with the agency noting that up to 11% of those images contained "undesirable nudity" – as the document stated...
"Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography."
Worries have been mounting by gamers that Kinect 2.0 is nothing more than a spy-device; given its lack of gaming-centric functions as of late, it's kind of hard to argue against that logic, no matter how often die-hard fanboys with Mountain Dew flowing through their veins would protest that it's all tinfoil hat, conspiracy theory talk.
This above information even further coincides with the NSA's own biometric protocols they used to filtrate data from Kinect users, making it more than known that YOU HAVE NO PRIVACY when Kinect is plugged in and turned on.
The NSA declined to comment specifically about "Optic Nerve", but they did tell The Guardian...
"As we've said before, the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself,"
On the upside, in the case of webcams, at least it sounds as if specific chat programs must be accessed for them to tap into monitoring your session. If you want to stay on the down-low, you can always use off-the-grid video chat services, the same as people who use TORs to stay off the search grid. Alternatively, you could always do what I do: Fedora, white mask, and nothing else below. The only way they'll be able to figure out who you are is if they start ID'ing you by schlong measurement.
Sadly, despite Microsoft's protests that Kinect is not used for advertising, marketing or spying, the Kinect is a camera directly tapped into Microsoft's Xbox Live service, and we all know how cozy Microsoft is with their services being gleefully penetrated by the prying eyes of spy agencies. This means that you're always out there and the NSA and GCHQ (amongst others) are always watching and always listening.
Oh yeah, and Microsoft has no plans to sell an Xbox One without Kinect. So get used to people giggling about your googly-moogly around the water-cooler.