Some of you know that I’m in marketing, and it’s my job to figure out how to put the right products in front of the right consumers in the right place and at the right time. Lining all this up is critical, because it’s a waste of time, effort and marketing dollars to try and hook a potential customer when they’re not in he mood to interact with your offerings.
These days, there are lots of tools to whittle down the audience you’re targeting and hone in on people who are good candidates for your product based on the websites they visit, what they like on Facebook, the times of day they watch TV, etc., etc. While some of these methods of targeting get close to invading someone’s privacy, none are nearly as scary as what this recently approved Microsoft patent proposes.
The website Digital Trends pulled the most telling paragraph from the patent application:
“a computer-implemented method to determine emotional states of users that receive advertisements on client devices, the method comprising: monitoring a user’s online activity during a time period; processing the online activity to identify a tone associated with content that the user interacted with during the time period; receiving an indication of the user’s reaction to the content; and assigning an emotional state to the user based on the tone of the content and the indication of the user’s reaction to the content.”
According to Digital Trends, it looks like your XBOX Kinect sensor, the little camera that goes on top of your TV and allows you to use your whole body to play games without a controller, will be watching you every time you sit down in front of your XBOX. Kinect will study your body language. It will look for subtle cues as to your mood. Then it will use this information to serve up advertising matched to what it sees.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize where this could lead. You’re watching Netflix on XBOX and hit pause. Kinect knows what time it is, knows you’ve been in front of the TV for an hour without eating, and decides you’re probably hungry. So a “click to order” Pizza Hut ad comes up. Or perhaps you’re drinking a Diet Mt. Dew (let’s be honest, the worlds greatest soda) and Kinect reads the label and serves up an ad for a Pepsi rewards program. Or it listens to you bitching (there’s a microphone, you know) about your unreliable car, and starts serving up NAPA ads or a pitch to by a reliable Subaru. Or it hears you mention “bombs” and “airplanes” and sends your name to Homeland Security. The fun is almost endless.
While there might be an upside to this – the system might see you grimace at a Coors Light ad and realize you’re a person of high taste – these are far outweighed by the obvious privacy issues. Also, looking over the patent, it’s pretty clear that this idea extends beyond the XBOX and Kinect. The language is very general about “computer systems,” and “online behaviors” to determine your mood and the context in which you are using that device, so expect this to impact the entire Microsoft universe, including your computer, your web browser and that little camera on your computer that’s watching you as you read this. Heck, maybe they’ll even do it as you surf on your iPhone – it too has a camera.
You know how you boil a live frog? You place it in a pot of cool water and slowly turn up the heat. The little sucker won’t sense that he’s in trouble until the water is roiling and his legs are metamorphosing into tender treats. This patent looks like that first little bubble that wiggles its way to the surface just before you get a full-on boil going. First it was tracking cookies, then it was Facebook using everything you tell it about yourself to target you with ads, then it was cameras everywhere, and now it is this – everything is coming together. And there seems like there’s no stopping it, because there’s money to be made.
I think it’s time to get sized for a tinfoil hat.