Microsoft Seeks to Use Application and Hard Drive Data to Sell Ads

Taking contextual advertising to the next logical level, it has been reported that a recent patent filing indicates Microsoft want to develop an advertising framework that uses applications and data on one’s computer, rather than one’s actions on the Web, to provide context for triggering ads. Imagine writing a letter in Word and having the (already annoying) paperclip pop up and try to sell you something based on what you’re typing (see image). From the report:

The advertising software, which could be part of the operating system, a standalone app, or an application feature, would use information gleaned from documents, music, computer status messages, and e-mails as context for ads. However, the software could conceivably gather information on every file on a user’s hard drive and send it to advertisers, and the application does little to assuage security and privacy concerns.

The patent makes no mention of any method by which users might be able to control or even turn off the service, nor does it mention the multiple privacy and security concerns. Ars Technica, however, notes the cheerful propaganda MSFT deploys in support of the idea:

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.”

As with the justifications given for personalized advertising in Web search engines, we’re confronted here with the claim consumers automatically benefit from having more targeted advertisements, without any consideration of what might be sacrificed by such a Faustian bargain. (Interrogating this belief is on my long-term research agenda.)

I also wonder how the research & development behind this patent application fits within Microsoft’s broader Privacy Guidelines for Developing Software Products and Services

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