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1/3/2008
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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 users.

An invention described in a newly published Microsoft 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 task.

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.

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