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Microsoft Windows patent will spy for advertisers

The computer is impersonal again

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If you thought adverts on the web have become more offensive and more intrusive than ever before, then it might be time to find alternatives to using software from Microsoft.

Microsoft has filed a patent (here) that threatens to breathe life into Bill Gates' and Ray Ozzie's Frankenstein-like Windows Live "vision", unveiled in November 2005, for putting annoying, in-your-face internet adverts inside your most important Windows applications.

The giant has claimed what it calls an "advertising framework" that would suck "context data" from your PC so advertisers can display ads on the client, and to split revenue with the advertiser and the owner of the application supplying the data.

According to the patent, any application such as - oh, say - a word processor or email client - may "serve as both a source of context data and as a display client." Microsoft's advertising framework would also stipulate "acceptable" advertising - so no porn popping up in your Dynamics CRM or ads for SAP - "restrictions on use of alternate display clients" (so no money for you, Linux), and "specifying supporting media" - forget Real Player and QuickTime, the future is Silverlight.

The patent, filed with the US patent and trademark office, would allow for more targeted, relevant and context-sensitive ads, according to Microsoft.

"Targeted advertisements is highly valued by advertisers because it allows placement of advertisements that are theoretically of greater interest to a particular audience member than blanket advertising," Microsoft's filing said.

Aside from the usual competitive concerns of the dominant supplier of PC operating systems further integrating its applications, this time with the internet to dive online ad revenue, Microsoft's patent is packed with the usual thorny knot of security and privacy concerns. These include spying on, storing and streaming data from personal files stored on a PC plus information on the users' computing activity to advertisers, plus the potential for hackers to attack machines by cracking both the data store and data stream.

Microsoft's envisions a "context manager" that would gather data from "various data sources" with a "profile manager" and "profile database" storing data "over a period of time" for use in "refining context data for advertisement selection."

An "advertising manager" may control the relationship with suppliers and the interface, meaning a "word processor may display a banner ad along the top of a window... while a graphical ad may be displayed in a frame associated with the application. A digital editor for photos or movies may support video-based advertisements."

The advertising manger would also "log ad placement results and may even take steps to verify ad consumption" for enforcement of contractual relationships, of course.

Sun Microsystem’s former chief executive Scott McNealy once lectured us long and hard on losing our online privacy to the internet. Looks like you can kiss farewell to the anonymity of using a PC, too.®

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