Thursday, January 17, 2008

Microsoft seeks patent for office 'spy' software

This is weird, and creepy:

Microsoft seeks patent for office 'spy' software - Times Online

Microsoft is developing Big Brother-style software capable of remotely monitoring a worker’s productivity, physical wellbeing and competence.

The Times has seen a patent application filed by the company for a computer system that links workers to their computers via wireless sensors that measure their metabolism. The system would allow managers to monitor employees’ performance by measuring their heart rate, body temperature, movement, facial expression and blood pressure. Unions said they fear that employees could be dismissed on the basis of a computer’s assessment of their physiological state....


David Canton - Harrison Pensa LLP said...

What do you mean you are sick and have to go home - the computer says you are fine. Creepy indeed.

Seva said...

Before the paranoia kicks in full swing, shouldn't we consider the facts, or the lack thereof?

1. in majority of cases there is very little connection between a specific patent and specific software product. Most patented subject matter never makes it into any kind of product, some is integrated along with many other bits of IP, and some exists purely to sue someone in the future (see RIM/NTP, lawsuits againt MS's Internet Explorer, current lawsuits against Nintendo, etc.)

2. The article is scant on details except for quoting from what is probably an abstract of this application. However, I am curious as to why the paper (and the commentators) conclude that the technology is intended to be used (if it will be ever used) for the purpose that they suspect? Even the article states that such technology has been used for a long time in specific circumstances such as military aviation, NASA, etc. It is not unfathomable that there are other civilian contexts in which this is also necessary (for example high precision manufacturing) or, on the other hand, MS is simply patenting a better mousetrap to be used where similar technology is employed already. After all, if US aviation carrier ran (and crashed) Windows NT, maybe MS is trying to sell its wares to the military?

3. Privacy is no longer a function of technology, but rather a function of the legal rights of the individuals. In the contexct of modern technology privacy by obscurity is simply impossible. Cameras and other sensors are tiny and getting tinier and we cannot combat infringement of privacy facilitated with these by legislating them out of existence. It is no different than the movie stodies trying to stop piracy by banning software that copies DVDs.

Thus, it is really irrelevant what kind of technology MS invents or patents. In fact, as noted, such technology already exists and MS is simply putting a slightly new (or "unobvious") spin on it.