I couldn't believe this when I read it, and even now, it still floors me. Microsoft patents the mother of all adware systems.
It's such a tremendously bad idea that it's almost bound to succeed. Microsoft has filed another patent, this one for an "advertising framework" that uses "context data" from your hard drive to show you advertisements and "apportion and credit advertising revenue" to ad suppliers in real time. Yes, Redmond wants to own the patent on the mother of all adware.
The application, filed in 2006, describes a multi-faceted, robust ad-delivering system that lives on a "user computer, whether it's part of the OS, an application or integrated within applications."
"Applications, tools, or utilities may use an application program interface to report context data tags such as key words or other information that may be used to target advertisements," says the filing. "The advertising framework may host several components for receiving and processing the context data, refining the data, requesting advertisements from an advertising supplier, for receiving and forwarding advertisements to a display client for presentation, and for providing data back to the advertising supplier."
The adware framework would leave almost no data untouched in its quest to sell you stuff. It would inspect "user document files, user e-mail files, user music files, downloaded podcasts, computer settings, computer status messages (e.g., a low memory status or low printer ink)," and more. How could we have been so blind as to not see the marketing value in computer status messages?
The software would also free advertising from its traditional browser yoke. "A word processor may display a banner ad along the top of a window, similar to a toolbar, while a graphical ad may be displayed in a frame associated with the application. A digital editor for photos or movies may support video-based advertisements," the patent application says.
The patent application, first unearthed by InformationWeek, gives the impression that your software would have more control over the advertising than you would. "An e-mail client may specify that ads from competitors must be excluded, that its own display client must be used... (that) no more than 4 ads per hour are allowed, and that only text or graphical... advertisements are supported." The patent makes no mention of any method by which an actual user might exert control, nor does it mention very real privacy or security concerns.
That's okay. It's still a good thing. It says so right in the application: "The ability to derive and process context data from local sources rather than monitor interactions with a remote entity, such as a server, benefits both consumers and advertisers by delivering more tightly targeted advertisements. The benefit to the user is the perception that the ads are more relevant, and therefore, less of an interruption. The benefit to the advertiser is better focus and a higher chance of conversion to a sale."
The patent is a fascinating exercise in advertising delivery systems. But surely that's all it is—an exercise. No way anyone would ever actually make a thing like this. Right?
So, let me get this straght:
- I have to pay money for Windows so Microsoft can play Big Brother.
- I don't have to pay money for Ubuntu so Canonical leaves me alone.
- I have to pay money for Windows to install spyware and adware on my computer.
- I don't have to pay money for Ubuntu to keep spyware off of my computer.
- I have to pay money for Windows to take up valuable resources on my computer, scanning my data for targeting ads.
- I don't have to pay money for Ubuntu so I can manage my resources as I see fit.
Interesting way of thinking, Microsoft. Call me stupid, but I think that's a dumb business model. Whether you agree with me or not, as I illustrate very plainly, I'll have to pay money for an operating system to infringe on my personal security through adware. And this is a good idea? Is this one of those "innovator" moments? I find it ironic that you offer a "tool" to remove adware from Windows, yet you'll be installing it by default. Will this "tool" remove it? I doubt it.
Hey, I have an idea for all the computers users out there: why not just download a Free and Open operating system, like Linux, and keep your personal data and security in tact? No Big Brother. No security breaches. No adware or spyware. Just peace of mind knowing that you have an operating system that leaves you alone.
Huh. I bet you didn't think of that now, did you Microsoft?