New Microsoft Kinect Patent Blatantly Plans to Spy on Private Viewing Habits

Microsoft KinectAnyone who follows the tech scene knows that the patent wars can get incredibly frustrating, but it’s relatively rare that they get downright frightening. Microsoft has a new patent that does exactly that, though. It’s one of the most frightening things I’ve read in some time.

They’ve patented a technology that would allow cameras, such as the Kinect system, to monitor how many people are viewing content, such as a movie, and check the licensing terms of that movie, and enforce the terms of the license accordingly.

This means that if you have a license for home viewing that covers 4 people viewing at once (I’m choosing 4 arbitrarily, for the sake of argument) but you’ve got a couple of friends over and have 6 people crowded around your TV, the system would track that you have more people watching than you’re licensed for. At that point it might stop playback, or prompt you to upgrade your license to one that covers additional people.

This patent is applicable to more than just home consoles. It could be implemented in smartphones, tablets, even be built right into new consumer displays. In other words, you might not have the option of simply unplugging the Kinect from your XBox. It’s the sort of thing that, if pursued, would be rather more broadly deployed than that.

What’re your thoughts on this? It hardly seems necessary to ask how you feel about agencies like the MPAA having this level of control in your private residences, but we’d really love for you to comment.

(via ExtremeTech)


  1. says

    Simple fix:
    Lets have better privacy laws that would make them using such patents here liable to pay damages for invasion of privacy. Now getting us pirates elected, that’s not so simple…

  2. Profile photo of Gord McLeod says

    I think it’s very important to keep in mind that this is ONLY a patent, it is not an implemented technology, and there’s no saying that Microsoft or anyone else will actually implement it in anything. Many companies patent technologies that they never go on to actually build or market.

  3. deacon 225 says

    Thank you for telling us about what Microborg and similar companies are up to. All they’re doing by inventing their “better mousetrap” is causing the evolution of a better mouse, of which I am proud to be one.

  4. Landon says

    My father is blind. Suppose I am watching a film for which I have 1 license and he’s in the living room with me. That’s clearly not a violation but the camera couldn’t tell that. This kind of tech will not be widely adopted in our lifetime for “license enforcement” of media. It would be more trouble than its worth.

    • Profile photo of Gord McLeod says

      Maybe, but the whole point of Kinect is that it’s a 3D camera. A 2D picture likely wouldn’t fool it for a second. And you want it to recognize fewer people, not more.

      • dawoud hussain says

        how about setting up an action figure or two in front of it? it’ll look weird, but it might work haha

  5. Carlton W. says

    I have an old Xbox360, and refuse to get the kinect system for that and other reasons, like i dislike the games that use the system. So i see voting with my wallet first.

    Second the is the invasion of privacy; If a person is or system witness a crime, with this tech, and not report it, they can also be at part of the crime. And be sued for misconduct.

    Or if the system sees nude minors, i can assume it would never be recorded and sold to outside companies as there property, and then be a leader of child porn.

    If the company wants to have the cake and eat it too, and sees 6 people, and some are illegal, they have the right to report this?

    Because people are required to report crime, and corporations are people.

    What would we the people do to a corporation that did not report? close them? let the government run it? I see nothing good out of this at all.

    My 2 cents.

  6. Steve G says

    It sounds like Microsoft is finally becoming the Big Brother that Apple warned us about in the 1984 commercial …
    Seriously, the technology is already there, between facial and spacial recogonition, and multiplayer home games on Kinect, I think this is more MS trying to beat everyone to the punch .. a “wow I could of had a V-8” moment, if you will.

  7. Chuck says

    Bag or tape over the camera can take care of future services if microsoft is dolores to break our constitutional rights.

  8. says

    Beware of Microsoft! They gather lots of private information about you and sell it to the highest bidder! If you can buy something from a non-Microsoft company, avoid Microsoft like the plague. Microsoft are violating every privacy law we have!

    • Tom says

      I’m not defending Microsoft, but I would like to point that they’re not the only one’s doing this. Microsoft, Google, Apple, Samsung, Asus, Yahoo!, AT&T, Verizon, Bank of America, HSBC, etc etc etc; you can’t turn on an internet connected computer, use your phone, withdrawal money at an ATM anymore without a corporate entity acquiring data about you and selling it off to the highest bidder.

  9. Vyrl says

    Amendment IV

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    • Samuel Smith says

      Thank you Vyrl. This sums it up nicely. MS has no right to intrude upon the privacy of people in their own homes.

      • says

        Microsoft is not the government and is not bound by such laws, further when you purchase a device and start it up for the very first time you usually agree to the 5000 pages of terms and service of a device such as the iPad, Xbox, internet enable TV, Networkable AV recieved or any other number of devices. these are legally binding contracts that a regular person (i.e. not lawyer) would never understand let alone have the patients to read. further unless you agree to these terms your device is about as useful as a rock.

      • Anthony says

        That is true but you have no “rights” where a product that you choose to buy and bring into your home is concerned. Even if everyone is doing the same thing you still have the option to not buy any of it. You agree to the terms of use when you turn most of this stuff on and most people are all too happy to.

  10. Simon J Stuart says

    The answer really is very simple: don’t buy their crap!

    Vote with your wallets, ladies and gentlemen!

    • Profile photo of Gord McLeod says

      I fear the answer isn’t anywhere near as simple as that. The part that scares me is not “Microsoft Kinect will spy on you!” It’s that this is the way the wind is blowing. Microsoft is FIRST with this technology that I know of. They will not be the last. Sure, vote with your dollars and don’t get Microsoft hardware, but what will the other guys be doing?

  11. Mike M says

    I would just unplug the Kinect from the back of the Xbox 360 unless I was using it for a game. No spying on me…

    • Profile photo of Gord McLeod says

      That only works if the device that’s spying on you is a current-iteration Kinect hooked up externally to a 360 or Windows machine. It seems more likely to me that we’ll be looking at future technologies like tablets, smartphones, next-generation consoles with Kinect built in, etc. You might not be able to disconnect the Kinect at that point.

      • Chris says

        Black tape/Duct tape/cardboard/etc over camera, issue sorted. It still relies on being able to actually see what is happening.

        • Profile photo of Gord McLeod says

          True, and the way around that is to design it so that it won’t play media at all while the camera isn’t detecting people. Hopefully it takes them a while to come up with that one.

          • Campbell says

            I wonder if you could just place a matte photograph in front of it, and see if it could tell the difference.