By Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY, NSW: Australian and New Zealand Xbox Live users clocked up more than 101 million hours on the interactive gaming service during the 2009 financial year. With the service set to incorporate social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, asked Xbox senior product category manager Jeremy Hinton how secure this service was, from both a social and technological perspective.

In his response, Hinton said that control was a big part of the Xbox Live experience. Microsoft wants to control the interactions between users, with corporate social responsibility playing a part in this decision. Hinton said this was one of the reasons why, unlike the PlayStation 3, Xbox Live does not incorporate open web browsing.

“At its base principle, Xbox Live is effectively a closed system, and it’s a closed system because, not only do we want to control the experience, but we also want to make sure the experience is designed for a living room setting,” said Hinton. “You look at the vast majority of browsers that are also in the living room today, and there not necessarily a good experience.”

Hinton said that Microsoft is currently working with Facebook and Twitter, so that when these sites are integrated onto Xbox Live, that user experience will be designed “for a lounge room as opposed to a PC”. Considering the moral overtones of this statement, we asked Hinton if Microsoft agreed with Minister Conroy’s plan to censor the internet.

 “No, I think we certainly agree with our industry body’s [the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia] position on this: that adults have the right to choose…and [we’re] working with the classification board here, in clearly marking content, so consumers know what they’re buying, and education is the best thing, not necessarily censorship.”

With Microsoft not in favour of summarily censoring the internet sites available through Xbox Live, how will it maintain the loungeroom experience for its users? Offered the examples of a Facebook race hate group or a person posting naked pictures of themselves, Hinton outlined a complaints and review system, in which offending users, as judged by Microsoft, can be warned, suspended or expelled. The benchmark for such actions will be if the material is considered “offensive to that community as a whole”.

Social considerations are not the only factor in Xbox Live maintaining a closed community. Hinton said that with 30 million consoles around the world, Microsoft acknowledged the potential for viruses to infect the system and the hardware.

“If you…have an open browser, you could then have a virus put into it.

“Every piece of content that goes through just needs to pass a quality assurance to make sure it’s not got going to have a bad experience for our consumers,” he said.

Considering that Microsoft describes itself as “the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions”, shouldn’t it be able to control its own network of Xbox Live users to enable open web browsing? We asked Hinton if this was a concession – that Microsoft can’t really protect its own infrastructure from attack.

In a prepared response to this question, Hinton said:

“We’re confident in the security of our services across the board. At the moment we don’t see web browsing as a good lounge room experience so we’re not looking to replicate it through the console. We’re focusing on services that maintain a high quality experience for the consumer and let us manage that experience to make it as enjoyable as possible.”

Xbox Live is a currently available, with both free and subscription services, on Xbox 360 consoles. These consoles start at RRP $299.