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Microsoft Businesses Patents

Microsoft Patent Aims To Curb Obnoxious Employee Behavior 312

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-cubicle-is-not-soundproof dept.
theodp writes "GeekWire reports that a pending Microsoft patent for monitoring workplace behavior would do Dwight Schrute proud. Three Microsoft inventors propose curbing obnoxious workplace habits in an equally obnoxious fashion — using a computer device for monitoring and analyzing workers' interactions over video conferences, telephone, text messages and other forms of digital communication to look for patterns of negative and positive behavior, and assigning behavior scores to employees based on what the system finds. Bad behavior, Microsoft explains, might include wearing dark glasses in a video conference, wearing unacceptable clothing to a business meeting, cutting off others during conversation, prolonged monologues, and even how one nods one's head in agreement, shakes one's head indicating disagreement, and makes hand gestures."
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Microsoft Patent Aims To Curb Obnoxious Employee Behavior

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  • wrong logo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by marcello_dl (667940) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:31AM (#38097812) Homepage Journal

    The Borg Gates would have been more apt.

    • by TWX (665546) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:36AM (#38097890)

      He doesn't really work there anymore...

      The world turned upside-down when dearly-beloved Steve Jobs started locking down hardware to prevent any non-Apple-Approved changes, and Kommissar Gates went to Africa to kill disease-carrying mosquitoes...

      (with apologies to Jon Stewart)

      • Re:wrong logo (Score:5, Insightful)

        by morgauxo (974071) on Friday November 18, 2011 @12:30PM (#38099508)
        Hardly! Apple never really played nice with it's hardware. IBM & compatibles are comparatively very open, anybody can build accessories and even full 'clones'. Not that we even use the term clones anymore. And what do most of them run for software? Microsoft Windows.

        Little has really changed. Apple is still the most closed choice in computing. Microsoft does some really bad things but is still much more open than Apple. All that's happened is Jobs died and Gates, realizing he is old is furiously working on some of his karma debt before he dies too.
        • by sjames (1099)

          Actually wayyyyyy back when Wozniak had influence there, they published complete schematics and source code. The transition to the current model was more or less when you needed special tools to even open a Mac.

      • Re:wrong logo (Score:4, Informative)

        by JASegler (2913) <jasegler@gmai l . c om> on Friday November 18, 2011 @12:50PM (#38099754)

        He is the Chairman of the Board and was representing the company during the annual shareholders meeting.
        That doesn't fit the whole he doesn't really work there anymore statement.

        When he isn't on the board and isn't representing the company at the shareholders meetings I'll believe he doesn't work there anymore.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 18, 2011 @11:51AM (#38098904)

      The Borg Gates would have been more apt.

      Your reply has been deemed obnoxious by our scanning software.

      -Microsoft.

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:32AM (#38097818)
    Sorry Microsoft but your patent has to be denied. I already patented having an annoying boss, if you persist with this you will be hearing from my lawyers.
  • by Sfing_ter (99478) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:32AM (#38097820) Homepage Journal

    So M$ is patenting being a dick? Well, they do have Balmer to prove their program theory works...

    • Re:So... Balmer... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by oakgrove (845019) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:49AM (#38098056)
      Why doesn't Microsoft patent a way to curb their own obnoxious patent bullying?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So M$ is patenting being a dick? Well, they do have Balmer to prove their program theory works...

      They are patenting a mechanism that uses AI to detect when you are behaving like a dick. Hook this thing up to a electric shocker built into to a collar fitted around every employee's neck and the possibilities are endless. Every time you criticize management, badmouth some oligarch, gaze too long in the general direction of a female coworker's posterior or simply engage in a combination of seemingly unrelated behaviors that trigger a match in this gizmo and tzzzzzzzzzt.........

      • So M$ is patenting being a dick? Well, they do have Balmer to prove their program theory works...

        They are patenting a mechanism that uses AI to detect when you are behaving like a dick. Hook this thing up to a electric shocker built into to a collar fitted around every employee's neck and the possibilities are endless. Every time you criticize management, badmouth some oligarch, gaze too long in the general direction of a female coworker's posterior or simply engage in a combination of seemingly unrelated behaviors that trigger a match in this gizmo and tzzzzzzzzzt.........

        Microsoft already did this [youtube.com] years ago...

  • by impaledsunset (1337701) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:33AM (#38097830)

    I usually put black and white paint on my face and put black metal clothing with lots of spines and an axe. I hope that's not included in the blacklist of obnoxious behaviours.

    • by TWX (665546) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:34AM (#38097862)

      Only if the face is all black except for a little bit of white around the mouth... That could get you sent to sensitivity training...

      • by Anomalyst (742352)

        Only if the face is all black except for a little bit of white around the mouth... That could get you sent to sensitivity training...

        Why? Is there some kind of unreported anesthetic quality to blackface?

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:41AM (#38097950) Homepage

      I didn't realize Gene Simmons posted on Slashdot.

    • by mlts (1038732) *

      Depends on what type of sysadmin you are. I'd expect a proper corpsepaint application on the AIX and some of the BSD guys. The Windows admins, it just doesn't fit at all. The Linux guys, might get away with it, depending on their administration philosophy.

      Other items, it depends. It does require black magic to get some networks working and keep them up, so seeing corpsepaint on the Cisco guys wouldn't be too out of the question.

      • by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:40PM (#38100510) Journal

        Hell, at a previous job, we used to have a rubber chicken hanging (via a proper hangman's noose made of scrap cat5 cable) from a cable tray in the main server room. Stayed there for nearly a year until the Head of IT finally arsed himself to walk into the place. He went predictably ballistic, but the week after we took it down, we started seeing a large group of drive failures in the SAN that the thing hung next to.

        Speaking of the original article, I wonder what they would use to detect a refrigerator hidden in an unused rack? It had an old tape library fascia taped to the inside of the mesh door, and a shelf immediately above it as camouflage. We kept our lunches in there after a rash of food thefts from the main employee fridges.

  • by TWX (665546) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:33AM (#38097836)

    "...using a computer device for monitoring and analyzing workers' interactions over video conferences ... Bad behavior, Microsoft explains ... wearing unacceptable clothing to a business meeting..."

    But how can they tell in a videoconference video if I'm not wearing any pants?

    On another note, years ago I missed the annual staff meeting when I was out sick. One of the topics was dress code. I was called in to the director's office to hear that part as it was deemed important. When he got into specifics, he said, "no printed t-shirts with inappropriate expressions on them, no open-toed shoes, no thongs." I replied, "No thongs? But how can they tell?!" He thought for a minute, and once it clicked, his face turned white as a sheet as he burst out, "FLIP FLOPS! No Flip flops!"

    It's funny to make a PHB turn white as a sheet...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:43AM (#38097976)

      There's this fit female coworker who wears g-strings and low waist trousers. Sometimes you can see the string over her trouser when she bends to pick up something from the floor. Nobody has complained............

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kryliss (72493)

        The only ones that ever complain about something like that are the fat girls out of jealousy.

      • by TWX (665546) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:53AM (#38098114)

        I once saw another incident. A lady of probably 35 years was, for some reason, kneeling on her guest's chair at her own desk while talking on the phone. Her whale-tail was sticking up well above her pants. I looked at the other lady in the office, probably in her mid sixties, and once I had her attention, pointed at the whale-tail. She got up, walked over to the woman on the phone, grabbed the whale-tail, yanked it back about six inches, and snapped it against the woman's lower back. The younger woman immediately reacted by thrusting her lower body forward, got an incredulous look on her face turning beet red, and concluded her phone call quickly and left the room.

        I was agog. After the victim left, I said to the lady, "You're the only person in this office who could get away with that!" to which she replied with a smile, "I know!"

      • by Applekid (993327)

        Do they also throw objects on the ground in front of her?

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      But how can they tell in a videoconference video if I'm not wearing any pants?

      by the way you smile, obviously.

  • Orwell (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AtomicSnarl (549626) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:34AM (#38097858) Homepage
    Cue the Big Brother - thoughcrimes comments.

    So, really -- what's the point of this? PC enforcement? Social modeling? Productivity improvement? Lawsuit prevention?

    If it isn't about productivity, it is probably a drag on the organization.
    • by theolein (316044)

      I wish Microsoft lots of luck trying to find talented employees after they implement this.

      • The talented ones are the ones who say that the Microsoft video-conferencing software must be playing up that's why there is no image only audio ....

        Monitor a black screen ...

    • by pla (258480) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:47PM (#38100628) Journal
      So, really -- what's the point of this? PC enforcement? Social modeling? Productivity improvement? Lawsuit prevention?

      The point seems all too clear - Having a pseudo-objective reason to fire just about anyone at any time.

      And as usual, the lying sacks of shit at the top who have immaculate hair and a sycophantic grin 24/7 will remain immune to it, while the geeks who look like hell after putting in 30 hours straight to keep the servers limping along through Black Friday will enjoy sub-inflation-level raises due to their "bad attitude".
    • I'm tending towards saying let any company that wants to use this, use it. All they will achieve is a company full of homogenous 'yes men' with very little independent thought. We have all heard the discussions on whether China is capable of innovation, with much of the crux of the conversation falling to whether it is possible without allowing free thinking. Now here we have the opposite side of the coin from extreme socialism (which is of course communism). We have localized fascism within individual corp
  • by pieterh (196118) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:35AM (#38097874) Homepage

    that if anyone complains of my obnoxious behavior, I can cite them for violating Microsoft's patent claims. Microsoft, can I please get a license?

  • So then.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:35AM (#38097876) Homepage

    Flipping off the boss as he leaves the room, playing angry birds during the meeting, or putting the phone conference on mute and ignoring it completely while we talk about random crap is ok then? the detector is not flagging those.

    • by TWX (665546) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:56AM (#38098164)

      I just hope that the mute button works... Apparently my wife was once in one where it didn't, and their team's bursts of laughter at the incompetent statements were not well received by those making them...

      • by Aryden (1872756)
        I don't bother muting, I just at the incompetent statements as they are making them in hopes that the meeting sponsor will actually have the balls to ask me what I find so funny...
    • The first two would be detectable under "hand gestures" as mentioned at the end of the summary :p Putting the phone on mute sounds like a winner to me though.

    • by mlts (1038732) * on Friday November 18, 2011 @11:33AM (#38098664)

      Mute button stories are comedy gold sometimes. I just tell people to make sure the light is lit or the phone actually is in mute.

      An example of this is when I worked in an internal IT department at a SMB. Someone called up from the field, got a cow-orker and she muted the phone (so she thought), then yelled, "Argh, I should just hang up on this guy. Anyone want to take him and put him on speaker so I can have a shot of Jaegermeister and snicker at him?" I took the call. Next thing the guy on the other phone asked: "Mind if I have a swig of Jaeger if any is left?"

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:38AM (#38097912)

    I've got a hand gesture for you!

  • I have one for you.
  • by mapkinase (958129) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:42AM (#38097960) Homepage Journal

    "Bad behavior, Microsoft explains, might include wearing dark glasses in a video conference, wearing unacceptable clothing to a business meeting, cutting off others during conversation, prolonged monologues, and even how one nods one's head in agreement, shakes one's head indicating disagreement, and makes hand gestures"

    I suspect for many of those they have no clue how to implement it, yet they are already patenting it?

    • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:47AM (#38098022)
      These days you patent the idea, not how to do it. I already have patents on FTL, nuclear fusion, Robotic prostitutes, and teleportation. It doesn't matter that I don't know how to do it I just put 'a method of ________' at the start and then be as vague and no specific as possible and even throw in some buzz words.
      • by TWX (665546)

        "These days you patent the idea, not how to do it. I already have patents on ... Robotic prostitutes..."

        I'm pretty sure that the Japanese have you beat on prior art there...

    • by Pope (17780)

      and even how one nods one's head in agreement, shakes one's head indicating disagreement

      Better fire all the Indians then.

  • bosses should not be calling on lunch / after work in less that that call needs to be done now now lunch maybe it's a real quick thing like I need X for customer Y and it can be done after lunch or it's after lunch go to Z. Now it's for some in the field then it's a little bit more ok to call.

  • Pointless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hentes (2461350) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:47AM (#38098028)

    If anyone notices bad behavior, there is no need for additional monitoring. But if noone notices it, there is no harm done. What's the point?

    • by Surt (22457)

      The point is that you're wrong about 'anyone'. It matters to many a PHB who notices.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:54AM (#38098126) Journal
    Like most famous inventions, the exact moment this invention happened has been very accurately recorded. It was exactly on the day a top sidekick of Ballmer decided to quit Microsoft to join Google. The CEO discovered the ballistic properties of office furniture and how effectively they can be projected to affect employee behavior and give feedback to the employees about the management's attitude towards them. But it was not a simple joy ride to the patent office. Much more serious development and testing took place. Tables were too heavy. Paperweights were too ineffectual. After a decade of hard work, the invention has paid off and now Microsoft has obtained a patent "for a tool that can give feedback to the employee about their actions and behavior which can also be sat upon to work when not used in that capacity."
  • by RogueyWon (735973) * on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:54AM (#38098134) Journal

    Ok, call me old fashioned, but why on earth would you need to have a piece of software to pick up on inappropriate behaviour from employees? Isn't this what a line manager is supposed to be for?

    Now, ok, some of the behaviours mentioned in TFS might be considered inappropriate; but even these are situational. In fact, I remember one day last summer, when I was on annual leave and got a call from the office asking me to drop in urgently, because a senior manager needed some advice in a hurry on an issue that only I knew about. I was up in town already when I got the call, so I was able to get into the office in about 15 minutes. I was casually dressed (jeans and a t-shirt - it was a hot day) and when I went into the meeting, I gave a monologue. That was, after all, the whole point of me being there. But was any of that inappropriate in the circumstances? Of course not. In fact, I got credit for going into the office on what should have been a day off. But this little office-spy routine they've got going here would have flagged me up for at least two violations.

    I've had to deal with staff conduct issues before. It's never a pleasant experience, but if you want to do it properly, you have to be clear about the impacts that the behaviour has had. So, for example, "You were rude to colleague x in a meeting. I know that she was being difficult, but you didn't handle this well. As a result of this, we haven't agreed any of the actions that we needed to and we've put objectives a, b and c at risk. We'll also need to get somebody round to extract the traffic cone and see if we can lure the weasels back out of the ventilation ducts." Something like that.

    I suppose I can see where an IT system like this does come in - as part of the "ass-covering" section of a formal disciplinary process. I can see the attraction for risk-averse employers (particularly in the public sector), where it might be considered useful to have a print-out saying "Employee Y was inappropriately dressed for meetings on the following dates..." during a tribunal process. But that's about bureaucracy and process - you only find yourself in that kind of situation once the relationship between employer and employee has actually broken down. It's not about actually improving conduct within the organisation in any meaningful way.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      This reminds me of the story Manna.

      http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm [marshallbrain.com]

      Management costs more per person than the people they supervise, if you can get rid of management you can significantly improve your profits.

    • I think the point is that they are trying to automate the line manager's job.

      Since we're already automated most of the line personnel's jobs, the ultimate goal is to have corporations with a CEO at the top and a smoothly functioning pyramid of robots below him, some of which do work and others who monitor the worker bots. Then we just need to automate the CEO. I suggest using a roulette wheel.

  • by CPTreese (2114124) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:54AM (#38098136) Journal

    The Army may like meetings and PowerPoint too much, but at least everyone wore the same damn thing and swearing at each other was considered an art form.

  • by mbone (558574) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:55AM (#38098142)

    I certainly hope that they use this video [youtube.com] to train the software.

  • Eh? (Score:4, Funny)

    by ledow (319597) on Friday November 18, 2011 @10:57AM (#38098172) Homepage

    Is it just me that thinks that corporate influence has turned everyone into automated drones and actually feels quite relieved when the person on the other end of the line seems human? When you can joke about their products, when they curse the system in front of you, when they basically say "Yeah, but the guy who dealt with you before was an idiot, sorry." even if it's just with a gesture?

    My boss regularly rings one of our suppliers for goods and they often chit-chat among themselves - he often works himself out a good discount while he's there, but that's how he operates - and it makes them seem altogether more understanding when you DO have a real problem rather than someone following a flowchart. They're also much more likely to get our custom than some robot who can't be made to smile, budge on price, or anything else that doesn't toe the company line EVEN IF they are more expensive than others.

  • by fortapocalypse (1231686) on Friday November 18, 2011 @11:01AM (#38098224)
    Security camera footage + Kinect technology + massive computational power and behavioral logic = "JETSON!!!!!"
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Friday November 18, 2011 @11:01AM (#38098228)

    So it's "bad behaviour" to wear dark glasses during a videoconference. Is it also "bad behaviour" to bring your guide-dog into the v/c, too?

    A lot of these attributes seem to be culturally insensitive and would be prohibited in many workplaces as being discriminatory

  • by clickety6 (141178) on Friday November 18, 2011 @11:04AM (#38098272)

    "Bad behavior, Microsoft explains, might include wearing dark glasses in a video conference..."

    So take that you badly behaved blind person!

  • The annoying hard selling of unnecessary softwares/licenses, too?

    Oh, not that annoying behavior.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Friday November 18, 2011 @11:07AM (#38098320)
    Should your own employer use similar methods, then you can take revenge by ratting them out to Microsoft, who can then either sue your employer for patent infringement, or forbid them altogether to use methods infringing on this patent.
  • Oh, sure, discriminate against the Italians.

    um ... I'd make a hand gesture now, but it's hard to do while typing. It's much easier over video conferences.

  • Smart (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sgt scrub (869860)

    This is a perfect disguise for getting patents on human behavior.

  • Prior art (Score:2, Funny)

    by sorak (246725)

    A patent on a device that tells you how to dress, how to talk, and how to carry yourself in public? I already have one.

    I'm married.

  • Microsoft patenting obnoxious employee behaviour? Aren't they their own prior art?
    • They didn't have a patent then, so they couldn't bill for it. I wonder what their billing schedule looks like. Do they offer corporate licenses? Can other jesters be added? What if a competing jester "arises?"
  • ...I could see the appeal of something like this. I have had to work with some incredible assholes in my time, and it's a situation that puts incredible stress on people in the workplace. We hired one guy who made everyone completely miserable with his confrontational, in-your-face style, and no one knew how to deal with him because we were all introverted geeks. It took months to get him fired because it was so hard to articulate what exactly his offenses were beyond simply, "He's an in-your-face jerk."

    I c

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      So you got him fired for a personality flaw ... because your personality flaw made it difficult to deal with him? And you don't feel like a douche because of that? It took months for someone else to notice his behavior after multiple complaints?

      You can call it playing devils advocate, but your story sounds a little more fishy than that. Sounds more like an excuse to tell us about how you got some guy fired for a personality flaw using your own personality flaws. Seems to me that if he got fired, so shou

  • by Max_W (812974) on Friday November 18, 2011 @11:45AM (#38098820)
    wearing unacceptable clothing to a business meeting

    This is not as simple as this. If we could accept wearing shorts, short sleeve shirts and sandals to business meetings in hot weather we could save a lot of energy on air conditioning, dry-cleaning, ironing, transportation, etc. And by this we would prevent global warming, catastrophic climate change, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.

    Why only suits and ties, the clothing of 19th century British peasants, is supposed to be acceptable?

  • Really, who ever granted this patent should be fired.

    OK, while staring at my laptop camera, wearing my Sun Glasses, I shake my grinning head left to right. But my left hand signs, "Your Number One". m$, you don't have the balls to bill me.

    Apologies to Corey Hart. [youtube.com]
  • done a study of how the ever increasing monitoring and scrutiny of employees in the workplace impacts their mental well-being? It's one thing to have security cameras watching over a store, but to have every aspect of your behavior put under a microscope and scrutinized would be stressful as hell. I remember there was an article about how in Japan some company was trying to use facial recognition software to track how much employees were smiling, and to report how much of a "happy" demeanor they presented.

    M

  • Doesn't even exist, and already I've flunked this test.

    I hate them all.

  • ... Steve Ballmer.

  • by Tom (822) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @06:10AM (#38107404) Homepage Journal

    A system like that would be very quickly discontinued in any corporation that would actually be using it. Because most of the people whose behaviour is obnoxious are those in leadership positions. It usually gets worse the further you get up the chain, until it stops with the top management where the curve often (but not always) takes a dive (i.e. they actual top dogs often don't behave obnoxious).

    The reason is that "obnoxious" is a very subjective definition. Much of what we consider obnoxious is displays of power (interrupting people) that are used intentionally or more often subconscious by those who deem themselves more powerful and need to state it without saying it outright. In other words, managers.
    The higher you get up the food chain, the thinner the air gets and the more fierce the competition. Until the very top, which usually behaves very differently because they don't have competition anymore. If they're actually the top - the C*Os of a largely independent company behave very differently from the C*Os of a company that's a part of a larger corporation.

    Yes, I've dealt with all levels of management. I could witness their behaviour because I was in a special position that put me outside the chain of command (even the CEO couldn't give me orders nor fire me, but neither could I to him or anyone else).
    If you are interested at all in psychology and social sciences, watching leadership of various levels interact with each other and those of different levels in the hierarchy is extremely fascinating. And one of the things you learn is that a lot of behaviour is context-dependent - whether or not we consider it acceptable depends a lot on who does it to whom in what setting.

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