Privacy Champion at Risk – Microsoft

Posted on May 22, 2013


It’s out of the box now the Xbox ‘One’, Microsoft latest iteration of its popular gaming console. But gaming console is no longer its sole ambition, with integrated multi-media experience from immersive 3D gesture based interaction, TV, music and hybrid PC functionality this represents a new generation of interactive and immersive Multi-Media platform. Add in the real nitro that this platform will inject from the Microsoft Development community and you start to get a peek at how truly impactful this new iteration Xbox is going to be on the future of our home entertainment, not to mention a blurring at the edges of business I expect!

With this awe inspiring prospect now of an always on, permanently Internet connected interface with the world, orientating towards streamed gaming and media content rather than the conventional physical forms of yesterday (today even!) there is no wonder we are seeing Privacy and Security concerns appearing even before the device itself has hit retail availability.

For many years now Microsoft has walked the tightrope of privacy and data protection impeccably well. By no means 100% for the privacy purists, but they have established themselves as the more trustworthy of the corporate behemoths orchestrating our online experiences, leaving in their dust the horde of veracious saprophytes digitally enslaving users as their principle revenue stream in the name of ‘shareholder value’, notably the Facebook, Twitter and Google’s. This is an incredibly valuable TRUST, that Microsoft has established, one that I fear the new Xbox One appears to be leveraging with very negative consequences at a key tipping point when privacy and security concerns are awakening in the global social psyche.

Trust is ephemeral in the face of change, very hard won and an all too quickly lost. It is gold dust to a brand or service, gifted not bought, never to be taken for granted or risk facing the wrath of its fickle nature. A breach of trust is akin to a crack in a mirror, always there, never a beauty mark and irreversible.

I can empathise with the young guns at Microsoft forging an offering and business case along the well-established Facebook and Google furrows of a prospective rich data harvest. But they are demonstrating a cavalier youthful arrogance. Even some of the old guard have fallen foul of the belief that there is a new way, that they can ignore the old models of care and attention to the interests of the trusting family of loyal users, they are wrong. Just look at eth mess Sinofsky made of Windows 8, exit stage left, enter stage right new VP heralding the soon to arrive Windows 8.1.

Microsoft will be invited into our living rooms through its Xbox ‘One’ armed with an arsenal of sensors that will be too tempting for some product managers to resist leveraging, bringing in a new age of user activity monitoring, streamed advertising, cross sell and up-sell. It is too much for some companies to resist, tapping a trust and milking it for corporate gain. Oh yes they will have fully stacked business cases and arguments for why this is in the users interest. But beware, there lies a prostitution of core values that will contaminate the whole Microsoft family. There is more than a game console at risk here, it is the whole brand itself that will be damaged.

Microsoft if you are heading down the aforementioned road, please pull over for a moment and reflect.

Behind ALL online data harvesting lies a commercial proposition feeding a business case Balance Sheet profit value somewhere and putting a tick in someone’s scorecard bumping them up one in the rat race no doubt.

IF the only way of bringing the Xbox ‘One’ to market at a price point that is palatable is to harness it as a data capture / user monitoring device, or to put it bluntly a privacy invasion platform, then this should be made clear.

I would however suggest there is another more cordial way:

  1. Offering the device also at its fully loaded cost so users have the choice at purchase as to whether they bring spyware into their lives.
  2. For future service delivery ensure there is a framework to enforce opt-in granulated data sharing and privacy options at each new subscription level at the point of subscription purchase. Something critical to control the developer opportunities this platform offers.

Critically demonstrate and play up the efforts taken to give the users a clearly articulated choice on their privacy relationship with the Xbox service platform.

Better still, don’t be greedy. If there is one thing Microsoft has that few other organisations have, that is its breadth of market offerings that can give it the capacity to be commercially evolutionary with its user audience.

What I mean by commercial evolution is the sharing of revenues with users. One that gives real ‘cash’ value back to your subscribers based on their sharing of data that in turn will build shareholder value.

The Facebook and Google’s of this world think in terms of captive users. Whether its fact or fiction Facebook with its giant incrementing subscriber counter on the wall is the epitome of what is wrong with their business model.

Carve a new Microsoft model, one of collaborative value, the objective being a 50/50 value share metric on returns from the use of user data. A proposition that see’s users being paid in cash or kind for their participation in what gets taken from them (data, privacy) by the other online Giants. To over simplify this concept for illustration purposes – for every Penny raised for an Advert viewed 50% goes to the user and 50% to Microsoft.

This will send a seismic shockwave across the capital values of the pure Internet paly competitions shareholder value proposition and set them back in their business models. Furthermore I can see this type of initiative also brining onsite any anti-trust or data protection challenges from countries such as Germany, or the European Commission. See ‘Xbox One headed for stormy waters in Germany over privacy concerns’ . After all how can they argue against a service that actually operates in an OPEN PARTNERSHIP with its subscribers!