Found this on Slashdot. Microsoft just submitted an application to patent something they describe as an “Advertising Services Architecture“. The short of it is that an advertising engine that watches what you do both online and off will collect information and use it to target advertising directly to you, not just through online ads but embedded in other applications and, possibly, the OS itself.
Sounds an awful lot like spyware to me.
From the application:
“Various display clients may also use an application program interface for receiving advertisements from the advertising framework. An application, such as a word processor or email client, may serve as both a source of context data and as a display client.”
Do you want Microsoft reading your emails and private documents to determine which ads they should send to you while using these same applications? Probably not.
I want to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt here. As much as they irritate me, nothing they’ve done thus far speaks of pure unadulterated evil like the institutionalized spying they’re describing here. So I’m thinking one of two things is happening here:
Scenario A: In an attempt to stem the tide of spyware assaulting its millions of users and contributing to Windows instability and security issues, Microsoft is trying to use the patent process as a tool for litigation to drive these bastards back to the dark holes from which they came. Given that this patent was filed on July 3rd of this year and adware such as Gator began showing up at least as early as 1999, I can’t really see how this might work. So, I admit, it’s a stretch, but I’d like to believe I’m right.
Scenario B: Microsoft is looking at the reality of the pirating of their software and have decided to offer a super low cost advertising driven version of their Windows operating system. You’ll still be able to pay the $150 or so for a full featured, non-advertising copy of Windows, but if you want to pay, say, only $14.95 or nothing at all for a copy, you’d still get “Genuine Windows” so long as you agreed to terms and conditions that allowed them to tightly target ads at you. I’m actually OK with this scenario, so long as I can still get a copy of Windows for a semi-reasonable price ($150 for a required piece of software is, to me, not totally reasonable) that has absolutely NONE of this code embedded in it. I think it’s actually a fairly wise way to deal with the folks who simply can’t afford to upgrade according to Microsoft’s schedule, and they’d certainly get takers. Though I wouldn’t be recommending it to any of my clients.
The obvious third possibility is that they’ve simply gone off the deep end and decided to sell out their entire customer base to the corporate world in return for more and more filthy lucre. While I don’t think this is quite beyond them – Google already does this for every application they provide you with your full consent, assuming you actually read their terms and conditions for use, so I can hear the folks in Redmond saying, “Hey, why not us too?” – I can’t imagine they haven’t anticipated the potential backlash against such a move in a world already paranoid about loss of privacy and the non-stop creep of advertising into every aspect of our lives. It’s a rotten move PR-wise, one I just can’t see them following through on.
Man, I hope I’m right.