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Microsoft File Patent That Could Allow Kinect To Spy On You At All Times, And Limit Your Ability To View Content

Oh my god, it's Johnny 5's head!

Oh my god, it’s Johnny 5’s head!

Oh, Microsoft, you’re not having the best of times right now, are you? Their reveal of the new Xbox One has received a massive public backlash of such magnitude that it even surprised me, as it’s rare to see such unity on the Internet. Now, though, things might even worse for Microsoft as a new Kinect-related patent could potentially bring us even closer to the ultimate big brother spy system.

The report comes via Extreme Tech back in November of 2012, but with the reveal of the Xbox One’s Kinect system the news has become even more pertinent. According to them the patent describes a camera-based system that is able to track the amount of people within the room and check to see if the amount of occupants exceeds viewing parameters set by the content providers.

“The users consuming the content on a display device are monitored so that if the number of user-views licensed is exceeded, remedial action may be taken.”

Essentially this means that a content provider could set a parameter stating that only 3-people, for example, at any one time could sit down and watch The Avengers Assemble via Netflix. Should Kinect report that more than three people are in the room you would be denied access to the movie. This would also raise some problems: what happens if somebody in the room is just using their PC with the headphones on? Are they going to be counted? Could you be denied access to a movie because your brother or sister is sitting on the couch reading a book? Worse yet, this could allow Kinect to watch you at all times and report your activities to Microsoft, though the wording seems to suggest that Kinect will only activate and monitor you when you use certain services.

Of course, Kinect actually already has the capability of watching you and sending data back to Microsoft or any other company, for that matter.

The main thing I’m driving at, though, is that this patent also ties in with several things that Microsoft revealed about the Xbox One’s Kinect, the first of which is that it must always be connected to the Xbox One for the console to function. Secondly it is  it is always listening for key commands – you can’t shut it off. Even when you’ve got the Xbox One switched off, Kinect is listening for an audio command to turn everything on. Should Microsoft indeed implement this new patent, Kinect would be a genuine Big Brother device sitting in your living room, constantly listening and watching, as well as controlling what you can and cannot do within your private space.

This, of course, brings up serious privacy and security issues. What if you have children with Kinect in their room, a Kinect capable of monitoring them at all times? What if a legitimate developer decides to go rogue and introduce malware into one of their games? Or what if just some general member of the public decides to abuse the system? Microsoft have stated that they have a strong emphasis on privacy and security when it comes to Kinect, but as we all know there is no technology that cannot be subverted.

More surprisingly the patent apparently describes how this technology could also be used on big-screens, phones, head-mounted devices and much more, making it clear this isn’t just an effort to stop massive public viewings of Iron Man on a person’s gigantic TV, which according to law are illegal. No, this would also have the ability to stop 2-people watching a film on a laptop.

However, in the interest of trying to be fair it should be pointed out that companies file for patents all of the time, the vast majority of which never see the light of day.

Still,  given the reaction to the Xbox One reveal, now is not exactly the best time for Microsoft to be filing patents which I can quite honestly describe as downright evil. In my eyes there’s no justification for introducing a system into people’s living rooms that is capable of listening in to intimate conversation and watching you as you go about your day. It’s like they’re deliberately trying to shoot themselves in the foot.

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