Microsoft U-turns on Kinect hacking

Microsoft has made a U-turn on its threat to bring in the legal dogs for hacking the Kinect, with it now saying that it left the Kinect open intentionally and that it feels inspired by the numerous open source Kinect developments that have happened over the last few weeks.

The sudden change of stance came from Alex Kipman, Program Manager at Microsoft and one of the main people behind the Kinect. He appeared on the National Public Radio’s (NPR) Science Friday show, where he said:

“Kinect was not actually hacked. Hacking would mean that someone got to our algorithms that sit inside of the Xbox and was able to actually use them, which hasn’t happened, or it means that you put a device between the sensor and the Xbox for means of cheating, which also has not happened. That’s what we call hacking, and that’s what we have put a ton of work and effort to make sure it doesn’t actually occur. 

“What has happened is someone wrote an open-source driver for PCs that essentially opens the USB connection – which we didn’t protect, by design – and reads the inputs from the sensor. The sensor again, as I talked earlier, has eyes and ears, and that’s a whole lot of noise that someone needs to take and turn into signal.”

The radio host attempted to clarify by asking: “You left it open by design, then, so that people could get into it?” Kipman responded with: “Correct.”

Shannon Loftis, another Microsoft employee who worked heavily on the Kinect, was also there on the show. She said was was inspired by the gaming community finding new uses for the device.

This is just a slight shift in position from  law enforcement chest beating regarding any modification of the Kinect. Of course, according to Redmond, Kinect hasn’t been “hacked” to its definition. So it’s not contradicting its earlier threat.

An open source advocate, Adafruit Industries, paid out a $3,000 bounty to the first person to create an open source driver for the Kinect around two weeks ago. This allows it to be used with platforms other than the Xbox 360. 

Adafruit was particularly pleased with Microsoft’s newfound respect for the hacking community.