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Microsoft and Verizon patent user surveillance technologies

9 July 2013

A new patent by Microsoft (patent number 0120278904) describes a surveillance system that uses special camera-like devices to detect the presence of people in a room and calculate their number. The patent describes a possible use case where such a system is used to monitor the number of people watching a movie. When a certain threshold is exceeded, the system requests that an extended content license be purchased. The content can be played only a certain number of times, within a certain time period and for a certain number of viewers of specific ages.

According to the patent, such a system can be used in various types of devices: from tablets, consoles and PC’s to mobile phones.

Verizon has a similar patent, but it provides more details about user monitoring.

kinect-300x168The system is based on devices equipped with a microphone, a camera, an infrared camera and a laser sensor. The concept is strikingly similar to existing devices – for instance, Kinect for Xbox.

The described system can not only determine the number of people in a room, but also analyze their activities and identify their behavior (and show relevant ads, for example). The system will recognize the age of specific individuals and detect the presence and type of pets in front of it.

The system can also connect to users’ mobile phones for greater control accuracy.

Google is currently submitting a similar patent for its Google TV service, but little is known about it yet.

The capabilities of such systems are described in patent applications as entirely voluntary user actions. However, this will hardly prevent content providers (game and movie companies) from requiring a connection to such a system.

As in many other similar situations, this news worried lots of users. Blogs and forums were filled with references to Orwell’s “1984” novel and concerns about possible illegal use of such systems for user monitoring.
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