Microsoft Seeks To Patent System To Spy On Workers

The application describes a program that would watch users' computer
activity, automatically offering help and letting supervisors monitor

By J. Nicholas Hoover
January 3, 2008 11:30 AM

An invention described in a newly published Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT)
patent application aims to make sure workers meet their deadlines and
do what they're supposed to.

The patent application, published Dec. 27, describes a program that
would monitor users' computer activity, automatically offer help
solving problems or links to information resources, and even allow
supervisory monitoring of users to make sure they're working or so
others can give employees' guidance if they're stuck on a certain

The application centers on "activity-centric monitoring," which could
be anything from "designing a new ad campaign" to "resizing an image."
Either way, the program as described would be capable of monitoring
related activity and providing advice or gentle nudging to carry out
the task properly.

The program would even be able to determine performance levels across
a group of employees and identify lower performers who might then be
given additional training, be reassigned to other tasks, or,
potentially, even be fired because they can't keep up with the work.

It's all reminiscent of a hyperactive and potentially more
controversial version of Microsoft's maligned "Clippy" Office
assistant that would pop up on the screen and interact with users,
asking them if they'd like help writing the letter that they're
apparently trying to write.

However, such a system wouldn't be all bad news for workers. In
addition to weeding out the low performers, it also could single out
good workers who do their jobs well, allowing higher-ups to identify
future group leaders and reward those who excel.

The system also could find the right person to help another with a
task. For example, Microsoft describes a situation in which a worker
might need to replace a toner cartridge in a printer, but doesn't know
how to do so. If the system monitors toner changes, it could assess
who's changed the toner most and with the most success and recommend
that employee to help the one who's having problems.