Microsoft sent a patent application to the US Patent & Trademark Office. The patent that Microsoft is trying to obtain should enable them to have monopoly on providing free computing resources (hardware and operating system) in exchange for user profiling on that computer and showing ads.
There are several things that worry me in this matter. The least of which is probably the fact that the user would have to bear annoying ads while doing work or playing.
The bigger problem is the other side of it – the profiling/targeting of the user. It is true that the user (according to the patent application) is able to select which type of data he allows to be profiled. But there are two major problems with this.
The first is how can the user really trust that the only data being collected by the spyware (adware, if you prefer) is the one he/she allowed to be collected and control the usage of this data.
The second problem that I see is less technical and more connected with basic human rights. The police needs a warrant to access the data of a user or even "just" look at with whom the user communicated, and in the modern times it looks like profiling of users is an everyday accaptable operation by commercial businesses. Also profiling users is getting broader and broader. It started just by users/consumers filling forms about themselves. Then we saw a big explosion of discount cards with which the shops would make a profile of your buying habits. After that there was a boom of the classic spyware/adware – cookies and pages that recorded and reported which adds the user looked at or clicked. And now? Businesses want to be able to profile users/consumers on all levels (application, kernel, hardware, …) and thus be able to see what you play, when you do, what programs you use, who you talk to and how long, what is your favourite way to communicate, which pages you access etc. And all that probably by sneaking it into EULAs that the vast majority of users just "next → next → agree → next → next". Is nothing holy anymore? Not even privacy? What takes the police through the whole trouble of getting a warrant should be accessable to businesses by a mere click?
Now to look at the patent application itself.
At the first glance it all seems like a nice option for people who need a computer and do not mind ads. But at a closer look one notices it is a patent application – meaning the applicant is trying to obtain monopoly in that field. Which, simply said, could mean that Microsoft wants to be the only one to offer such a model of selling computers for privacy and data – and/or, of course, selling the licences to competition.
Which brings me to the next problem as a patent – it is a business model and those aren't patentable everywhere. They are in the USA though, but even there they are getting a harder time since this year.
Also it seems there were already some similar ideas in the past that might qualify as prior art.
At the end it has to be noted that it is just an application – it is not granted yet. And from what I see the testing could take quite a while and a possibility for it to not even be granted.
If we look at the bigger picture it gets even scarier: Imagine profiling assisted by as low as the hardware and kernel level and combine that with trusted computing! I just hope this vision is too paranoid to become real…