/ Parenting, Technology

Microsoft censoring what your kids watch on TV? I don’t think so

What if your TV could, upon your child walking into the room, automatically switch channels from Aliens to Chucklevision? Is this a helping gesture from the hands of technology, or taking censorship too far?

As futuristic as such tech might sound, this is exactly what Microsoft has proposed in its latest patent.

The document describes a camera that can determine a person’s age from the 3D model created of their body. This isn’t the biggest revelation, seeing as Microsoft’s Kinect camera, which can detect everything from your body shape to your facial expression, is already on the market.

Microsoft’s idea to automatically censor TV

However, it’s the implementation described in the patent that’s head-scratching. In short, the camera will be able to determine whether you’re too young for the film, game or show being broadcast on your telly – where it could then switch to something more appropriate.

There’s no reason why this tech couldn’t add black censor bars to raunchy blockbusters, remove the gory blood from video games, or beep swear words out of Billy Connolly’s stand-up – all because your child’s in the room.

It’s a bit of spiffy tech and not actually that far fetched. Microsoft’s Kinect system already links individual faces to their Xbox LIVE accounts – accounts with their own parental settings – meaning only the account holder will be able to log in and leaving your offspring out of luck when it comes to accessing mature content.

The difference with this patent is that age will be estimated automatically based on body shape and proportions, independent of any account settings, restricting content on-the-cuff for anyone who happens to be in front of the camera.

It’s a Brave New World

Isn’t that just a little bit all-seeing and all-powerful? Controlling the content we watch, no matter how good intentioned, feels far too Orwellian for my liking.

As much as this will make me sound like a finger-pointing scrooge, but isn’t it a parent’s responsibility to stop their children from tuning into a documentary about serial killers (I’m quoting the 12-year-old Ben from the BBC comedy Outnumbered here) not your TV’s?

Plus, how accurate could this system really be? I’ve seen 15-year-olds who look over 18 and vice versa – how many times will Microsoft block viewers from content they should be legitimately allowed to watch? Thankfully the system can be turned off if you’re an adult with unusual proportions, but if there’s a way to switch it off, then surely savvy teens will find out how to do this, defeating the purpose of the system?

Then again, if parents want this technology in their TV to ensure their kids aren’t ogling something they shouldn’t, who are we to stop them? As commenter Bruce pointed out in an earlier Conversation about Kinect, ‘if anyone wants to install such a Big Brother device in their living room they deserve all the consequences’. That opinion might be a tad OTT, but I agree with its sentiment.

Should TVs automatically censor content dependent on how old it thinks the people are watching it? For me, the answer is no. Though it could solve one of the eternal problems of Xbox LIVE – 13-year-olds shouting expletives as they tea-bag you in Call of Duty…

Fabien says:
5 October 2011

I’m sort of against it but at the same time, I can see its advantages. It just feels as if too much is being moderated by us relying on machines to do the work and when it comes to censoring what our children are exposed to, what ever happened to having parents be more involved? Too many times are people so quick to blame video games for any violent behaviour but their children are probably playing said video games in their own living rooms.

Andrew says:
8 October 2011

Government controlling every aspect of our lives is bad enough, now we have moralistic corporations monitoring us and tell us what we can and cant do? this is an outrageous blow to freedom and liberty. I don’t want microsoft or any other corporation scanning me and telling me what to do!

Matthew M says:
8 October 2011

As an Adult with adult proportions (well hopefully), this doesn’t bother me. Technology like this would obviously be an opt-in scenario. It’s just an advanced parental control system. A parent who chooses to utilise the parental controls of their digital set top box, computer, ipad, etc.. would obviously want to use this and benefit from this.

Also I don’t think its about the children actively seeking the adult content, but more about preventing children stumbling onto adult content. Depending on the time of day, you may leave a channel on and a PG rated program may finish and a MA15+ program may start. A child may be flicking through channels and stumble onto a movie channel which is showing an R rated film, but isnt a channel blocked out because it also shows films rated G, PG, M… If a parent doesnt want to expose their child to sex, drugs, and violence, and this tech will do its best to prevent that, well I have no issue with that.

At the end of the day, we arent forced to use this tech. The tech is available for us to use.