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New Microsoft patent could turn Kinect into Big Brother

Sensor would stop video playback if unauthorised viewers are detected

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Microsoft has taken out a patent titled "Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User" which purports to limit video consumption to those who've licensed the video in question by actually monitoring what's going on in your living room.

"The technology, briefly described, is a content presentation system and method allowing content providers to regulate the presentation of content on a per-user-view basis," reads the blurb, filed April 2011, published 1st November and picked up by both Geekwire and EG.


"Content is distributed to consuming devices, such as televisions, set-top boxes and digital displays, with an associated license option on the number of individual consumers or viewers allowed to consume the content," it goes on. "The limitation may comprise a number of user views, a number of user views over time, a number of simultaneous user views, views tied to user identities, views limited to user age or any variation or combination thereof, all tied to the number of actual content consumers allowed to view the content.

"Consumers are presented with a content selection and a choice of licenses allowing consumption of the content ... The users consuming the content on a display device are monitored so that if the number of user-views licensed is exceeded, remedial action may be taken."

Fail to take "remedial action", and the device you're watching the movie, TV programme or whatever on will simply halt playback. The patent makes no mention of Kinect in particular, but there are paragraphs about a gaming console and telly-top camera. The two sensors included with one picture (apologies, we're having a hell of a time downloading them) bear a strong resemblance to those pictured in leaked Xbox 720 design materials. Xbox 720, incidentally, is rumoured to feature a new, built-in version of Kinect.

"Environment 612, with capture device 620, may be used to recognise, analyse, and/or track human (and other types of) targets," the patent explains elsewhere. "For example, a user within the display area of the display 616 [the television] may be tracked using the capture device 620 such that the gestures and/or movements of the user may be captured to determine the number of people present, whether users are viewing content and/or may be interpreted as controls that may be used to affect the application being executed by computing environment 612.

"Such information may also be used to determine whether the tracked user is viewing content presented by a content provider."

I was bang up for the idea of built-in Kinect till shortly before writing this. Somehow, the idea isn't quite as appealing any more. Of course, you could always just put something in front of Kinect but there's nothing to stop the device detecting this and turning itself off in protest.