Microsoft wants your TV to spy on you and charge you more

Microsoft is working on a way of spying on you through your TV, so it can charge you for every person watching.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
2 min read

Big Ballmer is watching you. Microsoft is working on a way of spying on you through your TV, in a bid to charge you for every person watching.

Microsoft has been awarded a patent for the "content presentation system and method allowing content providers to regulate the presentation of content on a per-user-view basis". The system uses cameras to make sure you've paid for the right number of viewers, and if you haven't the system takes "remedial action".

Other conditions of a licence could involve limits on "user views, the number of user views over time, the 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".

How then, would it actually work? At the moment, a movie costs a flat fee whether you watch it on your own, with a couple of friends, or with the entire cast of Les Miserables crammed into your living room. But this new system allows Microsoft to grant you a licence for the film based on the number of people who want to watch it. The more people watching, the more the license will cost -- and the Kinect camera on your TV is counting how many mates are sat on your sofa to make sure you pay the right amount.

Don't try and pull a fast one by sneaking in a few extra buddies into movie night, because Kinect will spot the extra faces and that 'remedial action' we mentioned could stop the film, either charging you extra to keep watching or shooting the extra people with a laser.

Fine, I made that last bit up -- but I'm sure someone in a Microsoft lab somewhere has thought about it.

Of course, this is only a patent, so there's no need to assume the worst. It may never come to pass, or only in a watered-down form. It still sounds invasive though -- who wants to be told off by a telly? And it could also prove awkward -- who wants to ask their buddies for cough up some cash when they come round to watch a flick?

Is it fair to charge everybody who watches a movie, or is this a gross invasion of movie-night privacy? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or over on our Facebook page.