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article imageMicrosoft Windows could soon track everything you do on your PC

By James Walker     Sep 26, 2016 in Technology
Microsoft has patented a technology that would see it almost continually spying on Windows users. The company's software would be constantly listening for "triggers" and sending data home. Microsoft thinks it would be beneficial to customers.
The patent filing was published last week and spotted by MSPoweruser. Microsoft has run into a string of major privacy scandals since the launch of Windows 10 last year. If the technology described in the patent ever hits production, the company's likely to have further outrage on its hands.
Called "Query formulation via task continuum," the system Microsoft has devised would aim to connect third-party apps with Microsoft services to improve the search experience. To do this, Microsoft would monitor almost everything users do on their computers. The company claims this would provide more effective search results in Bing and competitor search products.
Microsoft has realised that one of the major contributors to how long a task takes to complete is the length of time spent typing a search query. Often, the user has already indicated what they want to search for though. If a user is writing a Word document about "dancing," they're likely to want to search the web for information about dancing at some point in the future.
The system described in the patent would be capable of realising this. It would hook into Word, constantly assessing your typing and forming search queries before you've even thought of them. When you need to browse the web, the search would already be available. The patent appears to be the latest evolution of the coming age of "proactive" digital assistants. Microsoft has already begun work in this field with Windows and Cortana, enabling computers to predict users' actions and complete tasks ahead of time.
The technique Microsoft describes sounds similar in some respects to Google's Now on Tap. Now on Tap is a component of Google Now on Android. It is able to detect the text displayed by an application and use it to display relevant information as soon as Google Now is launched. If you're playing a song in Spotify, Google Now can automatically pull in tour dates, artist biographies and discography information, for example.
Microsoft's implementation appears to be further reaching and more reliant on automated tech though. The company wants to be able to pry inside third-party applications and use their data to offer improved search results. With users already reluctant to accept Windows 10's always-on bug reporting features, it seems unlikely that further monitoring tools would be popular if publicly introduced.
In the patent filing, Microsoft insists that the user would have full control over their data. It also stressed all the information would be stored securely, although there's no guarantee it couldn't leak out over time. The range of data Microsoft would collect, including scraped text, user input, currently playing audio and many other "signals," could be valuable to hackers.
There's currently no indication Microsoft is actively working on integrating the patent's technology into Windows. However, it does seem to align fairly well with the company's long-term vision for its machine learning and automated technology, presented to consumers as its Cortana digital assistant. The patent filing makes it clear that computers would be able to establish the "overall goal" of their users, a proactive approach that sounds similar to existing tech from Microsoft and its industry rivals.
More about Microsoft, Windows, windows 10, Privacy, Tracking
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