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Microsoft Files Biometric Emotion Monitoring Patent


This week, Microsoft filed a patent for tracking systems that detect a user’s emotions to match online advertisements to moods.

The technology works by capturing facial expressions in video conversations and Facebook status updates. Users’ moods are further assessed by speech patterns, web browsing history and content searches, along with emails and instant messages.

Advertisers are matched people who are either “positive, happy, confused, neutral, negative, angry or sad,” according to the patent.

Toronto Star reports that “the patent news comes on the heels of a policy paper released earlier this month by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which states that though an increasing number of Canadians are comfortable with similar tracking services, most ‘don’t even know they are being tracked…making it difficult to opt in or opt out.’”

For companies like Microsoft, this technology will provide a way to monetize its web sites. Levels of emotion can vary — a user can be “very angry” or “slightly angry” — as well as the length of the mood. Ads can be targeted to people as being “happy for one hour” or “happy for 24 hours.”

But privacy advocates have concerns about this mood-tracking technology.

“Definitely when you’re talking about people’s emotional states, you’re getting closer to sensitive data that relates to their identity,” said Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer at the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic. “The more sensitive the data the more robust a consent mechanism you need to have in place, to make sure users agree to the data collection,” he said.

However, it may be awhile before we see this technology actually in place, as Microsoft regularly applies for patents but not all applied for or received necessarily get incorporated into a product.

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