Microsoft's latest patent is trying to establish a "digital manners policy" (or DMP for short) to be enforced on all electronic devices. Essentially, what Microsoft wants — or, at least, what they see potential profit in — is for all electronic devices to be able to receive "orders" from a DMP master transmitter. One example being used is that DMP-equipped movie theaters could automatically turn all mobile phones to vibrate once a movie starts.
There's a load of problems with this idea, and privacy and security guys are already going a little bit bonkers about DMP. Ars Technica writes:
The patent application itself may only have been recently published, but it's already come under attack from some privacy advocates who fear it's nothing more than DRM masquerading under a different name. Upon review of the actual patent, this type of stance seems unnecessarily alarmist. While the DMP system Microsoft describes might theoretically be used to completely block or unnecessarily restrict device access, switching phones to "vibrate" mode or disallowing photos while in a locker room do not seem to qualify.
I'd disagree: the comparison seems apt. Microsoft is patenting technology that would allow other people to control your property without your consent. That's DRM... except it's more worrying, because it's for physical property as opposed to intellectual property. Certainly, we're all annoyed by people who don't turn off their phones in movie theaters, but a movie theater has no more right to turn off your phone without your explicit consent than it does to order an usher to push you to the ground, steal your phone and manually turn it off.
This sort of patent works under the assumption that you don't own your phone, or camera, or whatever, but are simply leasing it from Microsoft, who will arbitrarily dictate how you can use your device according to the whims of its paying clients (and I'd remind you all that the biggest client of this sort of technology would almost certainly be the US Government). That's alarming, even before you start considering security issues, pranksters and the like.
Ars says "the benefits to our collective sanity may well outweigh any minor annoyances that might occur with DMP." Surely, any threat to our collective sanity can be handled culturally, without handing control of all of our gadgets to a digital Miss Manners. Gadgets isn't what makes people rude and annoying: social acquiescence is. It's people who need common courtesy and policing, not tech.