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Microsoft Patents Television Your Rights Online

Will Microsoft Dis-Kinect Freeloading TV Viewers? 478

Posted by samzenpus
from the watching-the-watchers dept.
theodp writes "Just when you think the cable TV viewing experience couldn't get any worse, GeekWire reports on the Microsoft Xbox Incubation team's patent-pending Consumer Detector, which uses cameras and sensors like those in the Xbox 360 Kinect controller to monitor, count and in some cases identify the people in a room watching television, movies and other content. Should the number of viewers detected exceed the limits of a particular content license, the system would halt playback unless additional viewing rights were purchased."
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Will Microsoft Dis-Kinect Freeloading TV Viewers?

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  • Masking tape (Score:5, Insightful)

    by surmak (1238244) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:53AM (#41879701)
    Over the camera should solve the problem.
    • Re:Masking tape (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JustOK (667959) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:55AM (#41879715) Journal

      "No one is watching. Guess I'll turn off then."

      • Re:Masking tape (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dintech (998802) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:10AM (#41879861)
        There's something very Orwellian about all of this. If content providers had their way, there would be a laser pointer on top of the Kinect with which to blind any people in the room who aren't supposed to be watching.

        1984 was about big brother government but when corporations effectively write the laws of government anyway, perhaps we don't need to make a distinction. The only difference it seems is that corporations have absolutely no pretense about looking after the people.
        • Re:Masking tape (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:14AM (#41879889)

          Huxley, not Orwell. No one is forced to own/watch television.

          • Re:Masking tape (Score:5, Interesting)

            by History's Coming To (1059484) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:57AM (#41880341) Journal
            Although try convincing the UK TV licensing authorities that - it's very common to get repeated threatening letters and people knocking at the door if you don't own a TV license. What if you don't own a TV? Well they don't believe that, they keep sending the threatening letters as long as you don't own the license, because (their reasoning) everybody owns a TV.

            Ironically, I also lived in a flat which did have a TV, but shared an address with a University office block. We were told we had to buy the commercial version of the license and they wouldn't sell us the household version. We stopped even trying to buy a license and heard no more on the matter.
            • WTF is a TV license. That is absurd.

              • Re:Masking tape (Score:4, Insightful)

                by History's Coming To (1059484) on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:31AM (#41881785) Journal
                In the UK all BBC programmes are freeview and contain no commercials. This is paid for via a TV license fee of around £145 (~US$230) per-property per-year, which personally I think is worth it for the programmes the BBC put out.

                You don't need a license if you're not watching live or if you only watch DVDs etc, but to "receive live television" you have to buy one.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by geekbastard (889412)

            Huxley, not Orwell. No one is forced to own/watch television.

            If it were Huxley all television would be provided free of charge, including all premium channels, so as to keep the working class happy and ignorant of the real goings on of the world. That is of course until we start receiving our daily ration of soma which will make all current distractions seem quaint by comparison. Given the choice, I would prefer Huxleys ignorant utopia over Orwells distopia any day. Then again I am an escapist in every sense of the word . . .

        • Re:Masking tape (Score:4, Insightful)

          by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:35AM (#41880101) Homepage Journal

          The way that corporate media critics like Howard Kurtz have kept a blind eye to this is with the excuse that "only governments can sensor people, not corporations."

          Sorry, in the era where your only gateway to the mass audience is through companies owned by 4-5 people corporate owned media CAN censor, and even if you don't believe this it's impossible to argue that they can't have deep influence or outright set the agenda of what is discussed.

        • by jd2112 (1535857) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:46AM (#41880209)
          In Capitalist America, Television watches you!
        • One of the MAFIAA heads, I think Hilary Rosen (?), gave a speech some few years back where she complained that libraries let people read books without paying. My google-fu is weak today and I can't find references, but I remember it well.

        • Nah, then they would be unable to conume content later and lose revenue.

          Now, mandatory contacts that they can control, and cause them to go dark, they would eat that up. ( sort of like the no camreas in a theater stuff being worked on.. but at an eye level )

        • It's looking less Orwell and more Max Headroom, to be honest.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vettemph (540399)

        Masking tape over the camera, Punch a hole in the tape so the camera can see the owner but not the whole room. :)

      • by Laxator2 (973549) on Monday November 05, 2012 @10:18AM (#41880657)

        I remember that some years ago, somebody came up with another brilliant idea: Have the TV sets locked on to a particular channel when the ads are shown, and ignore anything the user does with the remote control. Return control to the user only after the ads are finished.
          And to top it off, the new "feature" included an "upgraded" service, where the user will pay extra to have the channel lock removed. Patented ransomware.

        What they did not take into account, is that people who were unknowingly buying such a thing were going to return them to the store in droves, declaring the units defective.

        This move simply smacks of desperation from M$ after their blah launch of Win8 and the Surface tablet (plus the obligatory Apple and Google tablet launches around the same time)

      • propped up in front of the camera. If you have a big family, masking tape will bring it down to the appropriate number of people for the license.

        Bonus: If the picture is sitting on top of the subwoofer, it might fool any "lack of motion" detector algorithm as well.

    • Re:Masking tape (Score:4, Insightful)

      by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:55AM (#41879719) Journal
      If it can't identify anyone, I'm sure it will say that it is unable to play the content.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by silvershadow (101700)

      Or simply disconnect it.

    • Presumably this "solution" would include refusing to work if the Kinect is broken or "broken".
      • by Zemran (3101)

        So if your device has a simple problem like a dirty lens it dies completely? Another good reason not to buy one...

    • Re:Masking tape (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:03AM (#41879811) Journal

      Over the camera should solve the problem.

      Normal technology is designed to fail as robustly as possible. Since video input is non-essential to media playback, graceful degradation and continued operation would be trivial.

      DRM isn't normal technology. It's technology that is designed to fail as dramatically as possible. Expect any minor anomalies in the 'trusted' system state to be treated as catastrophic and absolutely incompatible with continued playback.

      • Re:Masking tape (Score:5, Insightful)

        by EdIII (1114411) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:08AM (#41879845)

        What it's absolutely incompatible with is my wallet.

        This shit is hilarious. People put up with the XBOX360 to play games. The moment scenes like this play out, people will just stop using it and go elsewhere. Laptop and Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Piracy, whatever...

        These people that are coming up with shit like this are insane. Even the most unsophisticated consumer sheep is going to lose it the day playback stops because their friend walked in.

        • Re:Masking tape (Score:4, Insightful)

          by 1s44c (552956) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:16AM (#41879903)

          These people that are coming up with shit like this are insane.

          It's true, yet they keep coming up with shit like this.

          After decades abusing customers maybe Microsoft have come to the conclusion that they can do anything and people will put up with it.

          • After decades abusing customers maybe apple also google have come to the conclusion that they can do anything and people will put up with it.

            see, it applies to any large co that continues down the path of 'owning you'.

        • Re:Masking tape (Score:5, Insightful)

          by faedle (114018) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:43AM (#41880173) Homepage Journal

          Do you even see the irony in your own statement?

          On the one hand, you groan about "people put up with the XBOX360.." and then say "consumer sheep is going to lose it". You do realize that most 'consumer sheep' won't, in fact, "lose it", and you prove the point with your snide remark about the XBOX platform.

          This isn't going to be enforced the way you think. It's likely not going to stop playing just because somebody walked in. Where this is going to be used is for things like pay-per-view sporting events and premium content services. This is primarily here to prevent a bar (or similar venue) from buying the consumer-priced-for-home-viewing $90 wrestling fight. (typically, bars and the like pay higher prices based upon their foot traffic) And people won't lose it: they'll pony up the money like they always have. You will have a small number that will complain, but they won't complain that loudly.

      • Unfortunately (Fortunately for us) too many false positives is a failure of the system to maintan market leadership.

        Remember the DAT recorder? Copy protection worked. Nobody bougnt it. They bought something eles that worked instead. Nobody use it to master home bands because it could not effectively be used to edit down master studio recodings for a home studio. The hard disk recorder replaced it. DAT was dead in the cradle with a DRM knife in it's heart.

        Remember the Sony Mini DIsc? Serial copy prote

    • Over the camera should solve the problem.

      That would likely result in it refusing to play at all. My roommate and I have device a pillow-based device called the "Kinect Bunker" where it masks your identifiable features while still allowing you to see the screen. We get inside it in a 1v1 turn based game when it start detecting the person on the couch instead of the actual player. So it's not exactly hard to fool without just blanking it out and obviously everyone will do that.

  • more copying (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:56AM (#41879727)
    I am enthusiastic about Microsoft's apparent desire to increase illegal copying.
    • You could consider this patent as a protection patent. Where the feature Microsoft will never release. However is some lame Cable Company or broadcast company does it, then Microsoft can sue them for patent infringement.

      • Re:more copying (Score:4, Insightful)

        by JWW (79176) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:36AM (#41880103)

        You could consider it that.

        But its more than likely Microsoft is planning on bragging up this patent at the Movie and Cable companies in exchange for exclusive deals to play their movies.

        This patent is fucking obscene.

        If protecting the sale (sorry "licensing") of your product needs police state tools, no one should respect your right to do business at all....

  • by JanneM (7445) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:56AM (#41879733) Homepage

    Or do it the other way around: count the number of people present and facing the screen during commercials. Refuse to show the program if the number of viewers exceed that of the break.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That idea is actually worth another patent, if only to stop companies actually implementing it.

    • by Teresita (982888)
      In Soviet Russia, xbox watches YOU.
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:57AM (#41879735) Homepage

    Well, between the ads and other crap Microsoft has been injecting into my XBox lately ... it might be time to log it out of my network and leave it disconnected. Ads in video games is starting to piss me off, and the on-line functionality isn't something I need to make use of.

    And the idea of actually licensing based on how many people are in the room has been a goal of the content industry for quite a while. But I sure as hell don't plan on facilitating them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:57AM (#41879739)

    The best way to keep this technology out of your homes is to refuse to purchase it.

  • by Hsien-Ko (1090623) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:59AM (#41879763)
    I can see why this won't work.
  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:00AM (#41879777)

    I'm just surprised Sony didn't come up with it first.

  • Place a picture of one person on a couch in front of the kinect .
  • by StoneyMahoney (1488261) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:01AM (#41879785)

    Whenever we're not using it, the Kinect will be turned around to face some porn!

    • by vlm (69642)

      Whenever we're not using it, the Kinect will be turned around to face some porn!

      I like your targeted ads.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    More than just the annoyance of a device interrupting my media, I am really feeling creeped out that something we purchased is being used as a "law enforcement" tool against us. Like a sensor in our cars that automatically phones the police when excessive speed is detected. (Woohoo! First car analogy!)

  • by PieEye (667629) * on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:03AM (#41879809)
    ...guess I'll have to move out of my hall of mirrors. "You are licensed for two viewers...we show 185 currently watching this program."
  • by vlm (69642) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:03AM (#41879815)

    Typical dual use technology

    Multinational megacorp : 1984 is closer every year, lets monitor and track and dehumanize, all to protect us from terrorists and "Its For The Children(tm)" and we'll purchase govt legislators to legislate our profits into perpetuity and damn the peons, some citizens like corporations are more equal than other citizens like meatbags

    Open source mythtv implementation : webcam detects wife entering the room, automatic hands off instant channel change from "Naughty Cheerleaders Car Wash 2012" to "CSPAN". I'm actually kinda surprised no one has implemented this yet. With all the video processing being done in VDPAU the CPU needs something to do to keep warm in the winter, and webcams are cheap, and prototype open source cam monitoring software already exists so ...

  • commercial tv packages bill by fire code capacity or per hotel room not by person.

    • by faedle (114018)

      Well, not exactly. (Disclaimer: I actually work for a cable company..) But, a venue's foot traffic and business type does factor in to what they are charged.

      In the case of a hotel, they are typically paying a fairly low rate for the programming compared to a normal "residential" subscriber. Also, there are sometimes extra perks the cable company throws in to the hotel's package: for example, the cable company may maintain the on-site infrastructure for the hotel, even providing the hotel with their own b

  • There is no way this could be forced onto the populace. For example, I do not have the Kinect, or any other input device other then the controllers (I did download the smart glass app so I can use my phones keyboard). This would not work on me.

    More to the point, this would increase the chances of me never purchasing such a device, which in turn means I would not purchase any games that require such a device (are there any Kinect only games other then the ones that were developed in conjunction with it to

  • Simple solution: Find the camera lens and duct tape over it.

  • I wasn't aware of any content you buy that is limited in the number of viewers watching, unless we are talking about showing a movie or something to the public. In fact, this sort of scares me. Is this the next step? You got to pay to watch stuff with more then 1 viewer?

    "This movie cost $3.50 per person watching, we noticed you have 3 people watching, your account with be charged $10.50 plus appropriate taxes for this movie."

    What I see is an excuse for more price gouging.by the media companies.

  • First they changed from selling to "licensing", to further control what you can do with their precious content in the name of "stopping piracy" (as if copyright didn't cover that). Now they want you to pay per head, and check your living room to milk you further if you play wise and bring a few friends over: "This motion picture is licensed for up to 4 viewers.Playback will resume when you upgrade . (or tell two of your freeloading friends to go do something else)".

    Also:

    a separate Microsoft patent application last year described a system for using sensors to estimate age based on the proportions of their body.

    What about achondroplastic dwarves? P

  • Patent != intention (Score:5, Informative)

    by tambo (310170) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:24AM (#41879987)
    This article makes a mistake that I've seen a hundred times before on Slashdot: confusing "the patent says...", and "the patentee intends to..."

    I write software patents for a living. (I didn't write this one.) Let me describe how the patent drafting process goes.

    A client comes to me with a simple invention - we'd like to do (A), (B), and (C) to achieve result (X). I talk to them at length about what (ABC) is, and what critically sets (ABC) apart from every similar example. I ask questions about how each of (A), (B), and (C) could be varied; what other elements (D), (E), and/or (F) could be added; and whether (ABC) could also be used for results (Y) or (Z).

    And when I write up the patent application, EVERYTHING goes in there. (ABC) is described as the base invention, but all of the other material about (D), (E), (F), (X), (Y), and (Z) is also included as optional extensions or uses of (ABC).

    Now, here's the critical thing: I haven't fully considered whether (D) is a desirable feature, or whether (Y) is a desirable result. My client doesn't even know, or says, "we don't really intend to implement (D) or do (X)." None of that is relevant. All that matters is: They are all logical, valid extensions of (ABC), so, typically, they all go in. Anything that could make the basic technique more valuable, appear more useful, or might more fully distinguish (ABC) over known techniques is helpful to add to the specification.

    I read this patent the same way. The basic invention is: "Use a camera to count and identify people interacting with a device." Now, you can't just stop there - you haven't said what that information might be used for, and the patent office typically rejects applications that look like, "The technique is: Generate some data." So the patent discloses several uses of that information. That doesn't mean that Microsoft has any interest in using that technique - only that it's logically achievable from the basic techniques.

    Look, we all agree that technology is neutral, right? For example, DRM has been *used* for lots of obnoxious purposes (including limiting fair-use rights), but the basic technology of DRM is neither good nor bad - it just is. The same principle applies here.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      the basic technology of DRM is neither good nor bad

      Sure, if you call it something risible like Digital Rights Management. If you give it an honest name like Disney Rape Mechanism though, suddenly it's not looking so usage-agnostic.

    • by RazorSharp (1418697) on Monday November 05, 2012 @10:41AM (#41880935)

      I agree they that they probably won't implement the thing, but the key to preventing the implementation is rabble rousing and anger before any attempt is made. Even if the idea would be to just count the viewers to generate data, that's still too intrusive for me and I'd think most viewers. It's none of Microsoft's business how many people are sitting on my couch. Not to mention there are more creepy things they could do with this data than just milk viewers for more money - facial recognition technology combined with combing the internet . . . ugh.

      Of course, I'd never have a Microsoft device in my living room anyway so I'm not too worried about it, but when this type of technology becomes prevalent it's hard to get away from it.

    • No, DRM is bad. It restricts the rights of the general public to use the media they purchase as they see fit; Nothing more, nothing less, that is its only purpose. No value is gained by the use of DRM, no functionality is added by the use of DRM, no customer experience is improved by the use of DRM; It is bad. I suppose philosophically you could say that at the "one's and zero's" level DRM is neutral, but above that it is Not A Good Thing. At all.
  • The Answer is No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by akpoff (683177) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:39AM (#41880131) Homepage

    It's always no.

    One thing though: This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word "no". The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bollocks, and donâ(TM)t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.

    In other words, Betteridge's law of headlines [wikipedia.org] describes trolling by the writer or publisher rather than a commenter.

  • by fibonacci8 (260615) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:57AM (#41880345)
    Make sure that you show the appropriate level of enthusiasm during the Two Minutes Hate friend citizen.
  • by jemenake (595948) on Monday November 05, 2012 @10:19AM (#41880663)
    Somebody patent couches with periscopes so people can watch from behind them. And mannequins with webcams in their eyes which re-broadcast the program over the local wifi. This will be a goldmine!

    Meh... on the other hand, screw it. Just take a picture of one dude on a couch, print it on a card, and then sell it with a little bracket which dangles it right in front of the Kinect's eye.

Mediocrity finds safety in standardization. -- Frederick Crane

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