back to article Microsoft proposes gadget feature disabling tech

Depending on your point of view, it’s either intensely annoying when someone uses their phone in a train’s quiet zone, or very annoying when you’re in one and want to use your phone. Microsoft has made itself mediator and hopes to patent technology to ensure that if you shouldn’t be using a gadget in a certain place – then you …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns


    Microsoft already tried to lock down our personal freedom with its OS via DRM/Trusted Platform aka Palladium technology, now they want to restricti our personal freedoms further by controlling when we can use items we have purchased. It would be dangerous to let this technology be implemented and i personally would refuse to buy and would boycott any product which had it.

  2. Edwin
    Gates Halo


    I applaud the idea, I really do.

    First application: disabling the speaker on kid's phones on public transport.

    However, I question whether this will really work. Even if it was technically simple, there are legislative issues. Today, this would be an opt-in system, which defeats the purpose since those most likely to 'break' such rules would be the least likely to opt in.

    A second question surrounds abuse. How do you ensure (technically and legislatively) that nobody is able to build a giant mobile 'switch off your phone' transmitter and kill mobile comms for thousands of people at the flick of a switch?

    Hats off to Microsoft, and I really do hope they'll make it work, but I really do also have my doubts...

  3. LTQ

    No way this could be abused...

    ...oh no, definitely not.

    Anyway, if it ever takes off, I'll just buy the Chinese knock-offs that don't enforce the flag. Problem solved.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love the idea...

    Now im gona get flamed by people ranting "I'f my wife dies when I'm on the train and I cant use my phone im gona be so angry with Microsoft", as has happend every time this type of tech is punted.....

    The only problem I can see is its abuse by the Police and protesters.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If I owned a conference hall....

    I could block people from using their phone unless they paid me money.

    I could beam it from my apartment to stop people making telephone calls outside my building. I could make nuisance denial of service attacks by randomly sending the signal to people who annoy me.

    Yes the possibilities are endless but who the f*ck would buy such a device? Seriously how many people got stung when they found out that Media Centers record facility won't record programs flagged by the broadcaster as 'don't record'.

    "Microsoft has acknowledged that Windows Media Centers will block users from recording TV shows at the request of a broadcaster...The software company was responding to questions about why some users of Windows Vista Media Center were prevented from recording NBC Universal TV shows, American Gladiator and Medium on Monday night."

    It's a seriously stupid idea, and simply patenting such a stupid idea casts a question mark over everything MS makes. Gee did this Zune you just sold me contain this 'feature'? Does this Smartphone you just sold me contain this 'feature'?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mobile phones in trains are easy to block

    Simply coat the window/train with a metallic based coat, or add a layer of something like the lead crystal used in Swarovsky crystal, and voila: no mobile reception therein.

    Granted it stops texts, but the annoying bip-bip-bip for a text message at an amazingly loud volume defeats the purpose of a 'quiet' carriage. People would have to leave the carriage to make a call (ah the peace), and perhaps look out instead of being tied to a gadget.

    Now if they can stop ipod/other music players from being played at volumes deafening to other passengers, then they're on a winner

  7. Anonymous Coward

    The Merkin dubyament will love this...

    They will ban photographing anything, just in case Wendys in 'bama is a target the those pesky Terrorists(tm).

    Note: Terrorist(tm) is wholey owned by the USofA Inc and may note be used, especially in reference to the IRA.

  8. Colin Morris

    It's a Quiet zone for a reason


    er... it's called the Quiet Zone for a reason....

    if you want to use your mobile phone, then why are you in the fcuking quiet zone!!!!

    .. I don't care what fcuking 'Digital Wrongs Management' technology Microsoft might be bringing out to stop you, sit somewhere else you inconsiderate b'stard....


    // ... to be heard at a Virgin West coast mainline service near you....

  9. Henry Cobb

    It's what M$ does best

    M$ patents something and then implement it in a closed and horrible fashion and then everybody just says no and moves on.

    It's a public service.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns


    Sounds like a recipe for a DoS disaster. Some bastard just turns his nice modern wifi hpone thing into a "server" that tells everyone around him they cant do anything. The trust issues here make this almost impossible to implement properly. Waste of the patent offices time, imho.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    wonderful idea

    I've always wanted to pay more to do less in my gadgets.

    Probably stems from thinking Vista is popular.

  12. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    Crackers' and dictators' paradise

    This just screams out for abuse. Undoubtedly the system will be wrought with security holes, from the server platform to the protocol to protocol implementation.

    Not everyone uses their cell phones for the evil purposes of talking in inappropriate situations. Or cameras for snapping up-skirt shots.

    Scenario one, cameras in a protest are instructed not to take snaps or video. No one is able to capture photographic evidence of crowd abuse by law enforcement or militia, or vice versa.

    Scenario two, server is hijacked and tells phones to shut off and stay off. Or sends a bad packet to poorly programed phones which dutifully crash, lock-up, or otherwise malfunction.

    And so on and so forth. Control is an illusion. Don't take away my freedom just because some jack ass exercises his inappropriately -- remove the offending jack ass and leave me alone.

    I am trying to figure out why we are moving more and more into forced conformity rather than being allowed to exercise personal responsibility. Perhaps one day planes will be equipped with metal bars which hold you to your seat like a fair ride since you cannot be trusted to remain seated when told to do so.

    Paris, exercising her freedoms inappropriately.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't patent,, make it open source

    Indeed, it strikes me that possibly the biggest reason for microsoft wanting a patent on the subject is that it wants the patent to PREVENT such a system being implemented -- by itself (through choice) and by anybody else (if they refuse to license the patent to others).

  14. spegru
    Jobs Horns


    I am sure MS are no dummies, but this beggars belief.

    First we had DRM and now DMP.

    So MS is officially part of Big Brother - and they are actually publisising it?!

  15. Anonymous Coward

    How can this be secured?

    The device must be able to work properly when in the middle of nowhere, so what's to stop people chopping/grounding the receiving aerials to re-enable their gadget even in restricted areas? I spy more irritating, unworkable, DRM-like rubbish headed this way!

  16. Jerome
    Gates Horns

    DMP or DRM?

    Does any of this stuff sound kind of familiar? It's Digital Restrictions Management all over again. Why would I want my devices to tell me what I can and cannot do, just because some official (or equally likely a nearby hacker) wants to limit my options? Why would anyone decide to buy a device with this "feature" as opposed to one without? I'm about as likely to do that as I am to give control of my computer over to Vista.

  17. David Shaw
    Paris Hilton

    Cognitive Radio

    when the LTE or WiMedia has (if/when) evolved to Cognitive Radio based on Software Radio technologies, then there will exist a set of local/metropolitan policies that will be inherited by devices from the Cognitive pilot channel or similar enforcement mechanism. As ALL devices will in future feature an SDR this Policy inheriting behaviour is needed to avoid unwanted emissions from the ever increasingly flexible hardware. M$ hasn't invented this, they're just talking about it?. Paris!

  18. Mike Richards Silver badge

    I honestly can't see a single problem with this...

    Microsoft develops a system for switching off electronic devices without user input.

    We have a paranoid government who wants to be able to control every part of our lives.

    What could possibly go wrong if these two get together?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Massive Potential for Abuse

    Want to photograph the police, use your phone near parliament, txt your friends about the latest demo you are on.

    "Sorry I can't do that Dave"

    And if this were to be ever implemented it would happen. This gubbmint loves function creep.

  20. Mei Lewis

    Why would anyone buy a gadget like that?

    Why would anyone buy a gadget that someone can turn off remotely if they don't like what you're doing with it?

  21. Mister Cheese

    Wonder if it would be cheaper... employ someone to sit on a train and say 'shh' to noisy people, compared to the installation, licensing, testing and support contracts for these devices. And it would only work if 100% of devices are compatible. Not so much a case of big brother watching you, but big brother continually preventing your free-will.

    Maybe it would be 'useful' for ill-mannered coUntrieS, but we're surely more refined than that in Blighty... aren't we? Oh and nothing (apart from the obvious) beats the satisfaction of an engineer telling a manager who invites himself along to a technical meeting to go outside if he continues to disrupt proceedings with his phone-calls...

  22. DavCrav Silver badge

    Maybe I've missed something...

    Won't this only work if the deivce you are using has this CrippleWare technology already installed? Why would someone choose to buy a camera that won't work in certain places? The only way it would work is if all devices were mandated to have this technology, which until recently I thought would never happen, but given the British government nowadays...

  23. Anonymous Coward


    > Microsoft seems unsure of how to best to implement such a draconian system and, according to the patent application, it’s considering several possible methods

    Wrong. You don't understand how patents work.

    The purpose of a patent is to prevent your competitors from doing the stuff in the patent, unless they pay you a royalty. (An additional bonus is that it establishes "prior art" so your competitors can't patent the same stuff). So a patent for one specific, detailed way of doing something is fairly useless - your competitors will just do it slightly differently and not be covered by the patent.

    You want a patent (or group of patents) that cover every possible way of implementing a feature. That way, whatever approach your competitors use, you can demand that they pay up (or if you want a monopoly on that feature then you can demand that they stop).

    This is why the patent will describe lots of different approaches.

    And I'm co-inventor on a handful of patents, so I do know what I'm talking about.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    How about people just get a bit of self-control instead

    The examples given are to enforce moral behaviour which I can see being dangerous. Taking the example of switching the phone off in the library, if the man next to you in the middle of the library had a heart attack, would you stand around whispering to the guy, "Please keep quiet, it's against library rules to make a noise". I'd hope you'd be shouting for help, pulling the phone out of your pocket and calling the emergency services.

    I carry my phone so I can be contacted as quickly as possible, if I'm in a quiet zone it goes to vibrate or silent and when I get a call I leave the zone before answering it.

    This makes as much sense as turning all NHS hospital sites into No-Smoking zones. I have seen patients refuse to have treatment because they thought they couldn't do the 5 hours with out a smoke and they couldn't use the patch or gum.

  25. Andraž Levstik

    Another Digital Restrictions Managment system

    Yet another thing that should tell the device another person owns on wha to do. Get stuffed microsoft... THE only person that should be allowed to do anything to a device is the owner of said device(the user).

    If you can't rely on people to cooperate with your advices on don't us this here or there etc... Then don't sell them the devices.

    Seriously. This would have a major negative impact on everything.

    But here's a grim thing... Someone implements their own and makes it portable and then everywhere he goes in a radius all devices would be blocked from doing anything. Also think about someone having a heart attack in the library that has this locked down. It coul be impossible to get help to him soon enough due to needing to dig up a hardline phone somewhere. How about the bloke standing outside the library finish some important call and he gets cut off suddenly.

    And come to that... if they don't want to just install GSM jammers in such places. Problem solved...

    Asking politely always has a better effect on people than demanding they do something.

  26. Rob Kidd
    Thumb Down

    No thanks

    Why would I buy a product which I knew would prevent me from doing what I want, when I want?

    There's no way it will become a legal requirement for this technology to be implemented in every gadget ever made, so there will always be a choice - and who is really going to choose to be restricted?

    Perhaps my inner tin-foil-hat-wearing tendencies are coming through, but couldn't this technology (for example) be used to repress critism of government by blocking all cameras and phones at protest rallies?

    I suspect this idea is going to crash and burn.

  27. Paul Livingstone
    Gates Horns


    Only Microsoft would consider developing such a heinous system.

  28. Kyle

    Missing the point somewhat?

    How, exactly, are they hoping to dupe people into going along with this gadget-restricting tech? Effectively this is the same mindset as DRM, and I imagine it will die in the same way - if it requires everyone to opt into it, all you need is one person not doing so and the system falls over. And lets face it, no manufacturer wants to be part of the group that lost millions of sales by opting to be part of the "restrict your device's freedom" group.

    (Aside from which, the assumption that stopping new tech from doing things = stopping people from doing things is misguided at best; if people want to break those rules they'll find a way of doing it...)

  29. Anonymous Coward

    According to Northern Rail

    Quiet Zone just means no electronic noise. I found this out when I asked the train manager why they allow people with screaming kids in the so-called Quiet Zone.

    Next time, I won't bother. I'll just book a seat in an ordinary carriage and make as much ****ing noise as I like.

  30. Tom
    Paris Hilton

    Going the wrong way about it

    As usual, Microsoft going the wrong way about something. As most people of said, this won't work because anyone will be able to build a DOS of death machine. Best way is to start with mobiles and work with the networks to make sure the network blocks certain features (eg calls, texts) in certain geographical areas. Although, i doubt they will be helpful in stopping their customers from spending money.... Maybe just wrap every library and train in tinfoil? Paris, because she's shiny like tinfoil

  31. This post has been deleted by its author

  32. Anonymous Coward

    C'mon guys

    This is probably one of the most innovative ideas ever to come from Microsoft! Admit it, you love it.

  33. tl

    Very useful...

    ... and very much craved for, particularly by our friendly dictators. Now they can get rid of those pesky reporters and casual photographers who tend to disturb the perfectly normal crowd control methods that are needed for maintaining peace and prosperity...

  34. Nardak

    Train crash?

    Take for example a train crash where people were injured. One of these gadgets deployed broadcast a "no calls allowed"... It will costs lives.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can we install them in toilets?

    I get sick of people talking loudly on their mobile while I'm trying to take a DMP.

  36. Edward Rose

    No issue with emergancies

    Given it isn't a means to block the calls, it's a request to block certain features emergancies calls can remain enabled at all times.

    The problem is that instead of attacking the root of the issue, this 'solution' is just a quick lick of paint over a single superficial symptom.

    How about, people actually start showing simple respect to each other. If someone is using the phone in the quiet area, be very polite and explain it is a quiet area and phones/loud music shouldn't be present. Don't look for a fight, don't pull moral authority, be humble.

    If then they refuse, beat them to death with the 'offendng equipment'. Or, take similar more legal action.

    People just don't give a damn about each other. Any of you have children? Do they get taught how to be a gentleman/lady at school - hold doors open, say please and thank you, let others go first, keep elbows off table, keep mouth shut when chewing, don't stand in doorways/narrow corridors (take another 2 steps you will be in a hall with lots of space - duh!). I find it very rare to find kids these days that have even the most basic manners, nice people, they mean well, but have never been taught to think of others.

    I say taught at school, but we all know it should be taught at home. Ha!

    It comes to something when you can teach kids all sorts of utter crap, but teaching them how to be civilised is just completely out of the window.

  37. CeeJay


    ...any device or system specifically designed to stop a mobile from working as a phone would be illegal in the UK under the 1949 Telegraphy Act?

    Or would that not count if the phone itself is complicit in the act of pseudo-jamming?

  38. Steve

    Stuff the quiet zone.

    How can you get in a giant metal box that hurtles across the country at +100mph and have the nerve to complain about the noise?

    If they want to do this then they should also have a train guard gaffer-taping people's mouths shut when they enter as I've heard screaming kids and loud conversations that were far more annoying than any phone ringing.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo


    I'm going to patent the idea of boxes that are shielded from the disabling signal so that you can use your phone when you're standing in one. I'll call them phone boxes and charge 10pence a minute to use them.

  40. Ian Morrison

    get off your ass

    This is not a good idea. Personally. I'd never buy a phone that was 'that' smart.

    As for the annoyances. If it bugs you that much. Get off your ass and go yell at thet kid on his phone. If you just sit there and take it - he'll do it again next time!

  41. Ben

    Microsoft ..........

    "Why would anyone buy a gadget that someone can turn off remotely if they don't like what you're doing with it?" errrr , this is an embedded feature of all Microsoft warez , its just a matter of time?

    "People just don't give a damn about each other. Any of you have children? Do they get taught how to be a gentleman/lady at school ?"

    Ballmer and Gates , co-author a rewrite of William Goldings famous novel

    to be available as an eBook , order your copy of "Lord Of The Files" now.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Ian Morrison

    "As for the annoyances. If it bugs you that much. Get off your ass and go yell at thet kid on his phone. If you just sit there and take it - he'll do it again next time!"

    I was on a train a while back and some youths (13/14 years old) decided to have a smoke. A gentleman unfortunate enough to be sitting next to them asked them to stop. They sniggered. He told them to stop, and got the usual "watch yoo gonna do bout it?". That moment the train conductor entered the carriage. The gentleman complained to him and the conductor looked at the youths who said "f*** off". The conductor hurried past and continued asking for tickets further down the carriage. The gentleman found a seat somewhere else.

    What would your solution have been? and I don't mean the solution most of the other passengers were probably imagining where the youths end up flung from the train.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    won't work here

    Since most phones in the US are controlled and locked down for the most part by their network provider, this only needs MS to sell it to AT&T and Verizon (who between them now claim 150 million customers) and it's a fait accompli. Sad, but true. You have to ask yourself what's the point of a quiet car when respectible, polite folks wouldn't be offending everyone around them with their phone / music player / trash talk, etc., anyway.

    Mine's the one with no mobe!

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Mordac, Preventer of Information Services a perfect role for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, and it always has been. (Mordac was an invention of Scott Adams' Dilbert cartoon, but I'd never previously noticed his resemblance to Ballmer)

    Microsoft has proven time and time again that if there's a way to prevent people from using their technology, that way will be stamped "Microsoft".

    From "Windows Genuine Advantage" shutting down your PC on a weekend, to "Playsforsure", to temporary Zune songs, it's obvious that Microsoft's true place is as tech supplier to Big Brother. The corporation should rejoice in their true role as the preventer of information services, and stop equivocating with misleading labels like "innovation".

    New more correct slogans might be "Where did you think you wanted to go today?" or "It just doesn't work", or even "Limiting your potential. Our passion".

    So if Microsoft wants to be the one finding ways to shut down your phone, let 'em. Who else would want that role anyway? Diebold?

  45. Daniel B.
    Thumb Down

    Yeah, right...

    I usually switch my cellphone to 'vibrate' or 'silent' when I go into a "quiet" environment. I expect, however, that even in these situations, calls still go through, as you might actually get important calls in. Ditto with SMS, I would be p*ssed if I got "need 2 go hospital FAST" about 2 hours after my mum sent it because I was in a "restricted" environment.

    Restricting digital cameras is even more stupid, as the tech can be abused as some other people have mentioned above. I guess I'll keep my BB on "Connections disabled" while photographing protests...

  46. bill
    Dead Vulture


    I want one of the gizmo's that shut off the service! That way I could wander about and create havoc.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    emperors new clothes

    A decade ago Ericsson was testing technology which would block mobile phones from working in predetermined areas. The idea was that certain localities such as cinemas, selected areas in hospitals, trains etc would be possible to designate as quiet. This was possible to get to work without depending on any communication with the actual mobile phone. The new thing is the interaction with identified devices. This is however not completely new either as printer manufacturers have used similar thinking in some of their products. The "new" point is the general device issue. While the Ericsson approach was specific for mobile phones and did just a complete blocking of the airwaves in question it was not open to discriminatory abuse (selective blocking of individual mobile phones while others are allowed would not be possible). The new technological solution is not only open for abuse but the active management possibilities that are foreseen appear to have been specifically meant to be used for discriminatory purposes (e.g. censorship).

  48. Bracken Dawson
    Black Helicopters

    Not my phone/camera.

    If all else fails I'll just dig out the 35mm camera and get rid of the phone (never liked it anyway).

  49. Herby Silver badge

    Why bother...

    It isn't going to work anyway. Legislating "common sense" is a lost cause.

    It doesn't matter what you are trying to do, those without any common sense aren't going to suddenly get some with a Microsoft initiated "dope slap" (much as it might make all of us very happy).

    Something better might be a "theatre broadcast" that turns off any cell phone that isn't already in the middle of a call. Issue it every 5 minutes or so. Yes, if you need to make a call, turn on your phone and do so, but you will need to take extra steps to do so.

    Just another idea. More forced common sense, which nobody has. Oh well.....

  50. Gulfie
    Gates Horns


    ... I'm EVER going to trust Microsoft to decide when I can make a phone call? Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'big brother'. I would never buy a device with these features on principle.


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