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Microsoft patent suggests use of Kinect tech for regulation of watching licensed content

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Kinect is always watching

Microsoft engineers worked on technology that could restrict the delivery of programming by using Kinect-like sensors to analyze the viewers watching the content in a room, according to a patent made public last week, as spotted by GeekWire.

The patent, which was originally filed in April 2011, does not explicitly mention the Xbox 360 or its add-on Kinect sensor. But it concerns a "content presentation system" that would use technology such as an RGB imaging camera and depth camera — both of which are present inside Kinect, acting as its motion-sensing "eyes" — to allow content providers to regulate the manner in which their programming is consumed "on a per-user-view basis." Possible limitations supported by the technology include the viewer's age, the identity of the viewer, a number of views over time and a number of simultaneous viewers.

Microsoft's patent calls the sensor a "consumer detector," an apt description. It would use the aforementioned imaging technology to scan a room and figure out information such as the number of people in the room. The patent filing posits a situation in which a content provider, like a distribution company owning the rights to a movie or TV show, could put a limit on the number of people allowed to watch content in one sitting — and charge an additional fee for more viewers.

While the technology sounds like a measure that favors Hollywood industry, it's unclear how such a system would be implemented upon unwilling users, at least not without some further draconian restrictions on the way people watch streaming video content in their living room. The patent is evidence that Microsoft was working on this system, but there's no indication whether it will be a part of the company's next generation of console hardware.