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Kinect is always listening on Xbox One, but privacy is a 'top priority' for Microsoft

The Xbox One's Kinect microphone is always listening and waiting for specific commands, Microsoft's hardware program manager John Link told Polygon today.

Microsoft revealed today that Xbox One will support commands native commands for powering the console on and off. Xbox 360 Kinect users can power off the console by using voice commands to navigate the menus, but not power on their consoles with the device.

In response to a question about whether that functionality means that Kinect is always on, Link said that Kinect is always listening, but in a limited capacity. It also helps ensure developers can count on the peripheral, he said.

"The Kinect has a variety of settings," he said. "You know, it's always available to the system, so ... you can count, as an application developer or a game developer, [that] everyone's going to have a Kinect. You always have that stream available. And then, you know, there are settings, obviously, in the console to be able to change the settings of how your Kinect is used, if you're interested."

The always-on functionality even when the console is powered down comes courtesy of "multiple power states," he said. At its lowest setting, which Microsoft refers to as "wake on voice," the peripheral is "listening" for specific commands.

The Kinect will "be just listening enough to know that, 'Hey, I heard something interesting. Somebody's probably trying to wake me up.' It sends it to the console for confirmation, and then it can really power up to that high-power state."

The Verge contacted Microsoft about potential privacy concerns of a device that's always listening — if not recording — the sound it hears. A spokesperson for Microsoft responded by saying that the privacy is a "top priority" for the company.

"The new Kinect is listening for a specific cue, like 'Xbox on,'" the spokesperson said. "We know our customers want and expect strong privacy protections to be built into our products, devices and services, and for companies to be responsible stewards of their data. Microsoft has more than 10 years of experience making privacy a top priority. Kinect for Xbox 360 was designed and built with strong privacy protections in place and the new Kinect will continue this commitment."