Microsoft patents spying on you with your TV's camera and fining you if there are too many people watching

Kotaku's Luke Plunkett delves into a newly disclosed Microsoft patent that covers spying on people in their homes using cameras attached to their TVs, in order to levy fines against them for allowing too many people to watch movies at once:

Basically, when you buy or rent something like a movie, you’ll only be granted a “license” for a certain number of people to watch it. If Kinect detects more people in the room than you had a licence for, it can stop the movie, and even charge you extra. So if Microsoft has its way, you won’t just be renting movies any more. You’ll have to decide how many people are watching, and no doubt pay more. And if one extra person turns up to your movie night? So help you God, you are going to pay.

Of course, big companies patent all sorts of stupid ideas, many of which never get incorporated into products. But hey, now you know that researchers at Microsoft sit around spitballing ideas like, "Wouldn't it be awesome to spy on our customers in their homes so that we could fine them for having too many people over to watch movies? Wonder if anyone is Hollywood would give us preferential access to movies if we could promise them that they could do nose-counts of people in their own homes?"

This Kinect Patent Is Terrifying, Wants To Charge You For License Violation


    1. The TV would probably want evidence that they are intelligent enough to be the viewers so they would need to shuffle around a bit and laugh in time with the laugh track.

      And if nobody is watching during he lecture about not downloading a car etc, then the movie will stop and wait.

        1. Doesn’t the Kinect “see” with a grid of IR beams? I don’t think a flat image will fool it. Perhaps a set of marionettes would work.

        2. it’s kinect, so a flat image ain’t gonna help.

          i kind of love the idea of fashioning an entire diorama with fake mechatronic audience just to pirate a boring old 2d movie.

          1. I was thinking you could use Lego to make an exact miniature copy of your lounge with a couple of bickering minifigs sat on the couch.

      1. Reminds me so much of Black Mirror (for anyone that hasn’t seen this 3 episode mini-series, I HIGHLY recommend it).

        If it detects that you look away it pauses until you look again – had quite chilling consequences in that episode…

    1. Yeah, they are going to get more videos of people having sex during movies than they would extra money from more people showing up.

      This seems a little dicey in terms of invasion of privacy.

    1. Well I, for one, will be going outside and/or reading a book! Surely the corp-o’s shall not encroach upon that experience!

      1. Sure the copyright police couldn’t restrict your access to paper books, too? Better memorise them, methinks….

        1. Great plan.  Let’s all memorize one book per person, then invite each over for book recitals.

          BTW:  I wonder if they have figured out a way to make money off home popcorn concessions yet?  That’s an awfully big revenue stream to overlook.

          1.  Great, then they’ll privatize the country’s fire brigades and force them to go about the country burning books instead of putting them out.

            That would make a great book.

    2. I’m guessing the next Xbox will have Kinect built in so if you want to stream movies from Zune or whatever it’s called now and don’t have any other devices plugged in to your TV capable of doing so you’d have little choice. Or something.

      But yes, I’d like to think most people wouldn’t be too chuffed.

      That said, it’s only a patent; it might never come to fruition.

  1. Would it be wrong to start calling out people by name? By referring to it as Microsoft’s shitty patent, are we giving a pass to Kathryn Stone Perez, Alex Aben-Athar Kipman and Andrew John Fuller for this shitty patent? If the S.S. Microsoft can’t be sunk, should the focus be on Kathryn Stone Perez, Alex Aben-Athar Kipman and Andrew John Fuller for their obnoxious, intrusive “idea”? Just asking.

    1. I think it could be. Until we know exactly what role these people have in the Microsoft patent system, naming them isn’t exactly fair.

      We don’t know if they were told to flesh this out specifically by management, or if they did it themselves, of if one person had the idea, one did the diagram, etc.

          1. yes, he did. and all without concern trolling about imaginary starving families. {added later: the way you do below “If I had to feed myself, and potentially a husband and kids”)

            His method isn’t patented. It’s available to you.

          2. I made that argument that: The people who have their names on this patent may not be instrumental to it, but let their names be put there because they use this job to make a living. 

            I don’t see how this is concern trolling.

        1. Yes, you did. If I had to feed myself, and potentially a husband and kids, I would help file a patent like this, no doubt about it. Actually spearheading the development of a project would be a different matter, obvs.

          1. Funny how I have to constantly watch my weight although I never fucked anyone to earn a living…

        2. Actually, you’re well within the parameters for compliance with (my interpretation) of Godwin’s Law. 

          You asked a rhetorical question, for the sake of non-malicious humour, and also to make a valid point. Plus you made no accusations and most importantly, you did not accuse another commenter in this thread of being a nazi.

          As an example, the picture I am attaching to this post might be a smidge close to the line, but it too is in compliance ’cause it is satire and is not actually accusing anyone of being a nazi. (The other pictures I posted for the lulz. I acknowledge that they contribute nothing of substance to the discussion.) The over-sized cat is a pic of an actual Gates Foundation-Monsanto co-venture to curb world population (pic is of a trial run.)

        3. I’d normally be right with you on this – but there are grades – and this one is very much at the ‘mild’ end.

          i.e. it’s the kind of thing I’d sign off and cringe at.  Unlike police brutality – where I’d rather be homeless than support coworkers that partook.

    2. There is standard employment agreement boilerplate that requires employees to participate in any patent activity derived from their work for the company. I’m sure MS uses it.

        1. Not so you’d notice. The ones I’ve seen don’t have extra language for patent “bonuses” or anything like that. If anything, you might get compensated for travel in order to participate in the patent prosecution or similarly associated bureacratic aspects of patent registration.

    1. It’s just a patent.  It’s not implemented.  So while it’s pretty disgusting, righteous outrage is a wee bit premature, particularly with so many more plausible threats to user freedoms running loose.

      1.  It’s just the right time for righteous outrage. This isn’t the sort of thing that should get patented. This is the sort of thing that should get the person who thought of it smacked upside the head before moving on to better ideas. The fact that it got further than the lips of someone who immediately regretted what they’d just said is pretty outrageous.

  2. It’s easy to implement but you can defeat it with skills learned in Grade 2. Remember the diorama? With the proper lens you can put a “glasses” on your kinect and then sit a diorama in front of it.

    Alternatively you can just make a couch cushion fort.

  3. I’m thinking it’s probably still a patent because they haven’t yet patented their robotic arm that removes the electrical tape you’ve blocked the camera lens with.

  4. And if they record a kid with no clothes on watching a movie will that make then sex offenders?

    1. Good question…as far as I know (could be wrong), the Kinect is an array of sensors that can detect shapes and forms, I believe some have hacked it to recognize faces, and I know for sure that it’s been hacked to do 3D scans of people and objects. But I don’t think it can actually snap a traditional pic. I could Google for the answer but don’t want to right now. I do know that it is a bloody cool device both in terms of function, price, and because Microsoft has designed it to be tinker-friendly. The Kinect has found its way into operating rooms, physical therapy offices and etcetera. 

      1. One lens is a standard (though moderately low res) colour cam.  It can snap webcam pics, and several Kinect games do so for effect.

  5. I’ll light my tv on fire and never watch the garbage that spews out of it every again. I can think of many things that I’d rather do than even own a tv. 

  6. This is just one more reason to not support microsoft. Though I’m pretty sure my Macbook’s camera switches on and watches me pick my nose every now and again, much to the NSA’s massive entertainment.

    1. I installed Little Snitch on my Mac several months ago, with certain regularity a pop-up warns me that my computer wants to connect to Apple, and with a diabolical grin I select “Deny” every time.
      This has nothing to do with Software Update function, as it still tells me about updates available for my computer, and it also does the occasional background automatic download, so that sometimes my option is “Install” instead of “Download And Install”.
      So I wonder why my iMac is trying to phone home?

      1.  Thanks for the link. I like to think I’m a healthy paranoid. Is why I have Chromium not Chrome (it DO phone home). But I hadn’t heard of this proggie til now.

      2. Potentially it could be loads of stuff, probably just diagnostic.

        Apple are actually really good with piracy (from a users perspective).  I can’t recall any Apple software requiring a serial or anything – very handy when I’d lost my iWork CD – I just torrented a new one – wasn’t an issue because there’s no traditional DRM in the way.

        1. They’re crap. They want a credit card for me to be able to patch iPhoto on my Dad’s computer, won’t patch the included apps without it.

          1. It needs an Apple ID for the marketplace. In order to bind an Apple ID to the Mac App Store  you have to provide a credit card.
            Even though the ID was created when the computer was ordered, it doesn’t appear to want to accept that one, not without tying to a card. I don’t want to put a card in, because I don’t want my Dad ordering anything from the Mac App Store by accident.

      1. The GOATSE image would be even less appreciated by any hypothetical monitors. If I was under surveillance, I’d try to ensure any spies got GOATSE and 2 Girls 1 Cup on as many cameras as I could pull off. 

        1. To pull it off precisely, one would have to look at those goddamned images also, catch a glimpse at the very least, while downloading the jpg, printing it on paper, aligning it correctly to the camera.
          So while I like the idea on first impulse, one has to consider that this is a “I’m going down and I’m taking you with me” situation.
          It’s what Bond told the girl in For Your Eyes Only – when you set out for revenge, first you must dig two graves.

          1. You think that’s bad, but as pointed out above, this uses Kinect. So you’ll have to construct some kind of 3D goatse diorama.

    1. You’d leave it plugged in because rewiring every time you want to play a Kinect game would be a pain in the ass. This should not be mysterious.

      1. We’re talking about the little black bar with the single wire that goes to the X-Box?  Did you run the wire through the wall to a rack-mounted X-Box?  I consider it about as difficult as swapping in the light gun for Duck Hunt, but some might find this challenging.

    1. Some tapes that are black or opaque in visible may be transparent or translucent in near-infrared.

      Aluminium-backed tape is the best bet here. Or taping a coin over the camera lens.

  7. I still think it’s adorable that people leave cameras pointing at their living rooms (and dorm rooms, and even bedrooms) all the time and presume nobody’s watching. These are the kind of people who can’t possibly understand what “the gun is always loaded” safety means.

    On a more entertaining tangent, anyone reading this post who hasn’t seen Black Mirror needs to do so.

  8. Just because they patent it doesn’t mean they will use it…
    I give it 3 weeks before Biden is pushing for this to be mandatory in all media devices.

  9. So what is the difference between a patent and someone writing a piece of fiction in which a concept like this is suggested?

    I mean except the patent holder can theoretically stop someone else from doing it if done without permission.

    1. That the patent holder can theoretically stop someone else from doing it if done without permission is a fundamental difference. A sci-fi author shares her idea with all the world, and probably makes no effort to make it real.
      Could one cite 1984 as prior art?

      1. So why don’t we get upset when sci fi authors post ideas that could be abused?  They are basically like open sourced patents (oxymoron I know).

    2. Getting a patent is time-consuming and expensive.  So the difference is, someone in management thought it was worth investing resources to do so.

  10. Microsoft has been working closely with Big Content for a while now, so this doesn’t surprise me at all. Might make me think twice about watching my licensed porn on a Kinect device, though.

  11. Leaving aside all the “1984” fears, with which I can sympathize, and the point that it hasn’t actually been implemented (which few if any actual comments sincerely made): how is this patentable?

    I mean I could come up with this idea in minutes. So could all of you. The person-recognition functionality is interesting, and (as a layperson with respect to both technology and patent law) seems plausibly patentable – but the application of said technology to this purpose, as being a patentable idea? Doesn’t that just seem nuts?

      1. I’m comfortable calling both nuts. In fact, I’m pretty comfortable calling the patenting of a rounded rectangle even more nuts.

        I do understand, though: you surely mean that Microsoft filing nutzoid patents is rational defensive behavior when the rest of their industry is doing the same. But the decisions aren’t just on the side of the firms filing the patents; surely the regulators have some ability to evaluate the patent applications and tell the firms to grow up.

        1. Responsibility to evaluate the applications?  Sure, they do.  Actual track record of bothering to do so?  Not so much.

    1. “Intellectual Property is our greatest asset.”

      Anyone notice how unintellectual intellectual property is?

      1. I wouldn’t say I’ve followed it closely, but I’m not unfamiliar with the concept that crazily basic and obvious things get patented, especially in the software world. A lack of novelty doesn’t mean I can’t complain when an instance is pointed out.

    2. MS has a pretty cool thing in the Kinect, so they paid a few employees to sit around brainstorming what it could possibly be used for.  It’s like an exercise one would do in a creative writing class, and definitely should not be patentable.  But, in 15 years, when someone actually implements it, they’ll say “sure it’s obvious now, but was it obvious way back in 2012?”

    1.  Nope. Not at all, I fear. You might as well not own something because that black tape would simply make it unusable. THAT’S the frightening part.

      1. Nope! You could take the tape off whenever you wanted to use the camera for chat and put it back on when you’re watching movies or doing anything else you don’t want hackers/Microsoft to see. Simple and cheap and it defeats millions of dollars of research by Microsoft.
        I use black electrical tape on my mac because I’m a paranoid tin foil hat wearing fool!!! :)

          1. You got me!
            Though, in your scenario, I suppose you can’t go to the kitchen to fill your glass, go outside to have a smoke or go to the bathroom either…
            Silly. No one would buy a television that spies on you.

  12. If you (correctly) believe that Microsoft is the source of all evil in the world, then what better way to waste their resources and let them go as far as they can with this idea.  It obviously can never be implemented; the consumer blowback would be ridiculous.  But while they’re wasting time on this, they have less time to fix Windows 8+ bugs, and their chokehold on the world pc’s may lessen.

    “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” — Napoleon Dynamite.

    1. An interesting idea which I want to support, but unfortunately it falls down at Microsoft’s extremely large resource base.  They’re perfectly capable of wasting resources on something this stupid without significantly affecting their ability to do other things, and indeed it’s paid off for them in the past.

      Fortunately, their chokehold on the world’s PCs is lessening anyway. (Hail Ubuntu!)

      1. More accurately, hail Android! The chokehold on PCs is still fairly strong, but the tablets and smartphones already slipped out between their fingers as MS is trying to tighten their grip.

        1. I never count MS out until the fight is done; they’ve always been bad at mobile but they’re trying hard to catch up fast.  The new Win smartphones are backed by MS having a deal with a major manufacturer in the midrange, just as Google has left the low/mid range smartphone market wide open – at the moment all the ICS phones are top end only.

          I’d love to believe they’re out of the battle for good, but they’re not.

          That said, Android has done a heck of a lot to wean people off the Win-based mentality.  (To be fair, so has Apple.)

  13. Given how awful Silverlight/PlayReady is already – and that Silverlight is deployed by practically all VoD services here in the UK (with a few notable exceptions) – I’m not at all surprised by this.  It’s no wonder studios and broadcasters love Microsoft.

      1. Big Content *love it* – at least on the desktop.  

        Silverlight 4 for Netflix and LoveFilm (read: Amazon), Silverlight 5 for Now TV (BSkyB/Murdoch Empire) and Blinkbox.

        Most free-to-air services still use Adobe Air/Flash, but main commercial terrestrial channel ITV uses Silverlight.

      2. Silverlight has a fully protected video streaming mode that studios just love.  It’s the reason you can’t get Netflix on Linux without firing up Wine or a VM or something. 

  14. I doubt this will be FORCED in. Just have us get used to having a camera first. “Look, the TV turns itself on when I sit down on the sofa. When grandpa walks in, the volume goes to 100. When I get up to pee, the movie pauses itself – amazing!” – I’m sure they can come up with more compelling reasons to embrace the camera.

    When everybody is OK about having a spycam at home ( whether in your console or directly built into the tv ) THEN start slipping in the implementations of these kind of patents.

    1.  Excuse me here, but you DO realize that just because it sez ‘OFF’ does not mean your TV is really ‘off’. If it was, your remote wouldn’t be able to turn it on. There’s a very good reason why ‘shutting down’ is not the same as ‘off’ (true ‘off’, that is).

      1. You are excused, but I was trying to make a point about how these kind of creepy patents may look absurd now, but eventually will make it into our daily lives by hitchhiking on other, more innocent, applications that we will voluntarily open the doors of our house to. — Not sure why you’re asking if I DO realize that “off” is actually “stand-by” :-)

      2.  actually your remote is more than capable of turning on a turned off TV, the sensor on the box detects the light that comes from the remote, this creates electricity that flips the switch which allows the electricity from the wall to flow into the TV. this is how tv remotes have worked for decades now. now this could have changed with newer tv’s but a tv remote is more than capable of turning on a TV which is switched off.

  15. My friends have laughed at me for being so paranoid about leaving the kinect unplugged when not in use in case microsoft is listening to you or watching you when you’re not actually playing a kinect game. Ugh, microsoft. Just ugh.

  16. Obviously Microsoft will be collating marketing data in all of this.  So I’m going to watch movies naked and enjoy my lulz as the “three legged man” sub-segment of direct mailings come flooding in.

  17. I’ll throw this idea out there: would it be worthwhile for socially minded geeks to form an evil patent forming think tank, formulating the most diabolical technologies and making them property of a trust, one that will steadfastly prevent their implementation?

  18. So this patent is just about what the camera/Kinect sees and interprets. A working implementation will also have players prohibiting any film screening as long as no working camera is connected. You think that’s not going to happen? Think again. More and more software only works as long as there’s a steady internet connection, and now even hardware (drivers) start this scheme. And must I remind you of HDMI and its shitty consequences?

  19. IDKWTF, but disqus wants me to post everything twice now.

    What I said was, basically, point the camera in a different direction than the tv faces, say, at the fireplace. Certainly they won’t try to claim that not enough people watched it. Or, be like me, and just don’t allow any cameras in your living room. (I keep my imac lens covered when not in use).

    1. Certainly they *could* try to claim that not enough people are watching, simply by presenting it as a helpful feature that pauses  the movie when you leave the room.

  20. Can blipverts be far behind?  I for one, welcome our Channel 23 overlords.  (Where’s Max Headroom when you need him?)

  21. This is why I’m glad there’s a PS3 in my home.

    Sony’s no angel, but they never think of stuff THIS level of creepy…

    However, why not just disconnect the kinect? If they build it in to TVs not every TV will have it. Furthermore, computer monitors are only getting bigger, it seems. They have HDMI ports and whatever standard connectors are next…

    Either way, if this goes into effect, holy COW it would just cost too much to watch stuff. Piracy would triple.
    I swear, there’s so many efforts to kill the movie industry it’s insane.

    I’ll never enjoy a movie, no matter HOW good it is, if I have to start thinking about so many factors before firing one up.

  22. Perhaps it’s time to establish a World Institute for Anticipatory Douchbaggery; basically an international think tank that gathers together experts in the fields of technology, marketing, psychology, economics, and management theory who come together to continually think about all the possible ways corporations and bureaucracies might exploit, hassle, or scam the public and then patent those concepts internationally before they occur to corporate executives, marketing people, bureaucrats, and con-artists so they can be sued for patent infringement whenever they try to implement such ideas. After all, we are clearly in an arms race here and the people on the receiving end of this kind of abuse of technology or ‘the system’ are always having to play catch-up. Let’s use our diabolical imaginations for good and get ahead of this curve.

  23. for people saying “just turn off the camera” they will likely require the camera be on for playback or integrate the camera into the payer, for those who would reply “just cover the lens” they will likely also require a certain number of people be in the room for the device to play (possibly passing it off as a helpful feature that pauses the video when you leave the room)

  24. This is just one of the many reasons why I have a PS3, and not an XBOX 360. I prefer to spend more on controllers and renting through Sony, than worrying about spying, and isn’t it that illegal in so many ways. 

    1. None of the big manufacturers are innocent when it comes to this stuff. There are cameras in Sony Bravias, you think they’re not watching?

  25. This is exactly why I keep my Kinect covered in 4 layers of a folded towel when I’m not using it.  

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