Big Brother 2.0: Microsoft’s Orwellian innovation

Microsoft has submitted a patent application for a new Big Brotheresque software program capable of remotely monitoring a worker’s productivity, competence and physical wellbeing. This takes the monitoring of people at work to a new level, say civil liberties groups, privacy lawyers and the Information Commisioner.

The Daily Mail reports

Microsoft is developing Big Brother-style software capable of remotely monitoring a worker’s productivity, competence and physical wellbeing, it was revealed today.

A patent application has been filed by the company for a computer system that links workers to their computers via wireless sensors that measure their metabolism.

The system would allow managers to monitor their employees’ performance by measuring their body temperature, heart rate, movement, facial expression and blood pressure.

Microsoft has submitted a patent application in the US for a “unique monitoring system” that could link workers to their computers.

The application states that wireless sensors could read heart rate, brain signals, respiration rate, body temperature movement, facial movements, facial expressions and blood pressure.

The system could also “automatically detect frustration or stress in the user” and “offer and provide assistance accordingly.”

Physical changes to an employee would be matched to an individual psychological profile based on a worker’s weight, age and health.

If the system picked up that the worker had an increased heart rate, or showed facial expressions suggestive of stress or frustration, it would tell management that he needed help.

Civil liberties groups, privacy lawyers and the Information Commissioner have all strongly criticised the potential of the system for “taking the idea of monitoring people at work to a new level.”

The US Patent Office has confirmed that the application was published last month – 18 months after being filed. And patent lawyers said that it could be granted within a year.

Microsoft refused to commment on the application, but said: “We have over 7,000 patents worldwide and we are proud of the quality of these patents and the innovations they represent.

“As a general practice, we do not typically comment on pending patent applications because claims made in the application may be modified through the approval process.”

Wow. This is just too far. You know that the drive for efficiency and profit has gone too far when organizations implement worker spy software to monitor the physiological functioning of their machines—er, sorry, human resources.

The West seems to be getting so much so wrong. What kind of life is this? That so many of us spend the majority of our lives grinding away in some office job worrying about constant deadlines, downsizing, our spot in the political pecking order, or whether or not subordinates are remembering put to put the coversheet on their TPS reports.

This is not a life. This is a waste.

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7 Responses to “Big Brother 2.0: Microsoft’s Orwellian innovation”
  1. Chris­™ says:

    Wow is correct. This takes invasion of privacy to a whole new level.

    It’s difficult enough working in many offices these days due to extensive time constraints, performance metrics, etc that are required of workers on a daily basis. All of these are to ensure that a worker spends the entirety of their 8 hours doing nothing but the work in from of him/her.

    This is a whole 5 steps forward from this thinking. It’s really quite absurd. Perhaps there are a few benefits to the immediate aid of ‘frustrated’ employees, but the possible ramifications to the negative are unending. Any company that attempted to employ this would immediately face a civil rights suit. One would hope anyways…

  2. Stoobs says:

    I agree entirely on the ‘this is no kind of life for a human being’ thing. People are expected to spend the majority of their life slaving away on inane projects they care nothing about, in order to produce ever increasing levels of wealth to be enjoyed by a tiny percentage of the population, who do nothing whatsoever in return.

    Unfortunately, the historical trend is that things keep getting worse until people get upset enough for violence.

  3. Juanito Epstein says:

    “If the system picked up that the worker had an increased heart rate, or showed facial expressions suggestive of stress or frustration, it would tell management that he needed help.”

    Joe Schmoe starts looking at porn at work, and experiences an increased heart rate, which notifies the management that he needs help relieving “frustration”. I think the businesses will be getting too much information that they really do not want to know.

    While this is inappropriate to use as a way to monitor employee performance it could be useful to learn about human computer interaction. Perhaps if this had been implemented sooner M$ would have learned that when people are using office they become more frustrated at the sight of the stupid paper clip. They got rid of it in the newer versions of office, but it lasted way too long.
    I do see lots of applications for using a system like this to research how well an application is designed. Also I could see this used in IO Psychology where they could do experiments on working conditions, like to see if people who have larger offices, or offices with windows/natural light are happier or more productive workers.

    This could be misused, as can many good things, but I do think there is a lot that could be learned through sensors like this.

  4. Rachel says:

    Juanito raises a good point: This could be used to really help people! Although I don’t think it takes something that sophisticated to figure out that most people are “slaving away” at their jobs, as Stoops put it. Also, most companies, while giving lip-service to helping employees become their best, are really only interested in the financial bottom line. If you are unfulfilled by your job – just leave, we won’t help you make the job more fulfilling. Do what you’re told; leave your critical thinking at the door.

    So, while I like Juanito’s idea that this tool could be used to improve worker’s lives, I am afraid it’ll be used to monitor us even more. And while this might provide too much information, that information might only be used when trying to fire an employee or take some other disciplinary action.

  5. Jeanette says:

    This will never take off, not only is it absurd but the ethical issues are massive. Instead of designing technology that will prevent us from slaving away, they are creating the chains to keep us tied to our desks. Really, what will this software tell us that we don’t already know? Speaking from experience, people who work at a computer, in an office, 40+ hours a week, are generally uninspired, frustrated and stressed out. I am more interested in the SOLUTIONS to these natural human ‘symptoms’ than a monitoring system. This is what’s wrong with our culture. We are not our occupations! We are free thinking beings with filled with emotions, passions and desires that go far beyond 9-5…

  6. ronbrown says:

    Agreed on all counts.

    There is a lot wrong with our culture. We are not our jobs. We are not our cars, our clothing, our social rank, etc. What many of us, unfortunately, are is deluded, distracted, self-absorbed, and neurotic. Moreover, we’re wasting our lives. People get all stressed out about social status and wealth that they spend their lives foregoing countless opportunities for enjoyment, personal growth, experiencing new things, thinking outside of their box, and uniting with others. We establish this self in constrast to others that is a major source of neuroticism by way of comparison, and is great impediment to compassion and bonding.

    I’m thoroughly disgusted with it.

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  1. […] employees to make sure they don’t misbehave. Ron, from the Frame Problem, made me aware of Microsoft’s Orwellian Innovation: a “software program capable of remotely monitoring a worker’s productivity, competence and […]



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