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Microsoft backtracks on XBox One camera amid spying fears

Press photograph Xbox One following the Xbox One reveal event on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Redmond, Wash. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Invision for Microsoft/AP)
Press photograph Xbox One following the Xbox One reveal event on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft will no longer require users of its upcoming Xbox One game console to attach its advanced camera, Kinect, in order to play. The move comes after gamers expressed concern that the device, which can track users in pitch black and recognize faces, could facilitate spying by the National Security Agency or hackers.

Before the latest shift, Xbox One would have required users to connect the camera even if the device was not needed for a particular activity. The new move from Microsoft finally gives users the option to disconnect it completely.

This is not the only policy Microsoft has reversed under pressure since announcing its new console in May. After its initial reveal , some critics cited the device's twin requirements of a daily Internet connection and an attached Kinect camera as a security danger, especially given the company's alleged participation in government surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden. Chris Miles, an editor at Policy Mic, went so far as to dub it "the future of PRISM."

Earlier this year, the company dropped its Internet requirement, which had drawn intense attacks not only from civil libertarians but from consumers upset over the restrictions it placed on used games.

The company also moved to assuage persistent surveillance fears by promising complete control over user data and later declaring its opposition to any government request to use Kinect for spying.

"Absent a new law, we don’t believe the government has the legal authority to compel us or any other company that makes products with cameras and microphones to start collecting voice and video data, and we’d aggressively challenge in court any attempts to try and force us to do so," a spokesman told tech site The Verge last month.

(Watch a demo of the Xbox One Kinect below.)