Microsoft has often been accused of spying on its users with Windows 10 because the operating system collects some data needed to diagnose bugs and help improve reliability, but if this recently-patented technology ever reaches mass-production, the firm should really be ready for a never-seen-before amount of criticism.
The title of the company’s patent filing is “Query Formulation Via Task Continuum” and it aims to make it easier for apps to share data between them, in real-time, so that the user can make more informed decisions when performing searches.
The patent was published on September 22nd and notes that efficient searching is enhanced if more information is available regarding the user intent, giving the example of someone doing a school report on dancing, and noting that despite the user having done some work already, when they hit the browser to search the search engine has no idea what the user is working on except for what they have typed into the search bar.
“For example, if a user is researching the topic of “dancing” for school, the user will use a first application to write things down as well as a second application such as a browser, to search different styles of dancing. However, in existing systems, the two applications are completely disconnected from each other. The first application does not provide the browser implicit hints as to what the user might be seeking when there is a switch from the first application to the second application.”
Microsoft feels that the current software model, in which applications are self-contained within their own silos, is detrimental to productivity and potentially slows the user down.
While for the user it’s one task, applications treat them differently because they are disconnected. Microsoft is now patenting a solution by creating a mediating agent. The mediation module will be watching over what the user is doing in active OS and 3rd party applications, and then using that data to produce more focused search results “through the preferred search provider.”
This mediator will be recognizing images or text from the photos they are looking at, recognizing music or sound, their location and other contextual data, removing personally identifiable information from this data, and adding it in some way to the search query to produce better ranked and more focused results.
It’s kind of like Google’s Now on Tap feature on Android devices – where a long press of the home button launches a contextual Google search based on the text present on the screen – only a more beefed up version of it.
“The search engine (e.g., Bing and Cortana) uses contextual rankers to adjust the default ranking of the default suggested queries to produce more relevant suggested queries for the point in time. The operating system, comprising the function of mediation component, tracks all textual data displayed to the user by any application, and then performs clustering to determine the user intent (contextually).”
Microsoft says this provides faster and better search results. But what about user’s privacy?
It sounds really neat and well thought of, and if implemented right, could make our computers smarter, making work flow easier, faster and more efficient. Microsoft promises to remove personally identifiable information from this data or it would require user’s consent. It goes without saying that Redmond emphasizes that users are always in full control of the feature and no data is tracked without their consent first, but we all know how these things work and how easily it is for privacy violation to take place.
There are already quite a few of such privacy involving “features” turned on by default on Windows 10 with toggles hidden all over in the Settings app, and no notifications come up telling a user that their network bandwidth is being shared with other PCs, or about any other similar “features”. Most users may never know Microsoft is giving them an option to not share personal information.
Microsoft along with Google have a thing for data accumulation, and since both have been regulars at breaking promises with their users, it doesn’t always excite everyone when a new technology is revealed. Even if the company manages to design it perfectly (and not another annoying Clippy-thing) and actually making it worthwhile to let Microsoft listen to our “diaries,” there are heavy privacy concerns associated with how it works. But, Microsoft could also choose to handle privacy issues the right way.
The first being that the company could – and should – make it an opt-in system and not another toggle that’s enabled by default. Microsoft says this mediator could be a built-in feature or a separate module which can be installed on Windows 10. If it’s a separate module, it shouldn’t bug anyone, but if it’s built-in, which is what seems most likely to happen, many would be interested in having an option to disable it. Microsoft may or may not provide that option however. If you remember, there used to be a toggle to turn Cortana on or off, but it disappeared after the Anniversary Update. It’s still possible to turn off Cortana but not as easy.
What are your thoughts on this new patent? Are you excited about the possibilities it brings? Do you think it will be a privacy nightmare? Sound off in the comments below.
Source : MSPU