As if Productivity Score wasn't creepy enough, Microsoft has patented tech for 'meeting quality monitoring devices'

Speech patterns consistent with boredom?! Minus 10 points!


The slightly creepy "Productivity Score" may not be all that's in store for Microsoft 365 users, judging by a trawl of Redmond's patents.

One that has popped up recently concerns a "Meeting Insight Computing System", spotted first by GeekWire, created to give meetings a quality score with a view to improving upcoming get-togethers.

It all sounds innocent enough until you read about the requirement for "quality parameters" to be collected from "meeting quality monitoring devices", which might give some pause for thought.

Productivity Score relies on metrics captured within Microsoft 365 to assess how productive a company and its workers are. Metrics include the take-up of messaging platforms versus email. And though Microsoft has been quick to insist the motives behind the tech are pure, others have cast more of a jaundiced eye over the technology.

Meeting Insights, should it progress beyond the patent stage, looks set to double down on things.

Microsoft has been working on calendars cluttered with meetings for some time. Last month it added insights into Teams via Stay Connected and Protect Time experiences, designed to keep workers, er, focused. Stay Connected, it said, "will also make it easy to schedule meetings related to work, fun or wellbeing — or all three."

Meeting Insights would take things further by plugging data from a variety of devices into an algorithm in order to score the meeting. Sampling of environmental data such as air quality and the like is all well and good, but proposed sensors such as "a microphone that may, for instance, detect speech patterns consistent with boredom, fatigue, etc" as well as measuring other metrics, such as how long a person spends speaking, could also provide data to be stirred into the mix.

And if that doesn't worry attendees, how about some more metrics to measure how focused a person is? Are they taking care of emails, messaging or enjoying a surf of the internet when they should be paying attention to the speaker? Heck, if one is taking data from a user's computer, one could even consider the physical location of the device.

While the idea of an in-person meeting may seem wonderfully quaint nowadays, the concepts detailed in the patent just might worry privacy campaigners who regard Productivity Score with concern. Should the ideas contained within come to fruition (and there is no guarantee they will – Microsoft has many, many patents to its name) one can but hope that the algorithm's output will assist in stomping on meeting culture rather than the hapless attendees themselves.

A Microsoft spokesperson sent us a statement: "We apply for many patents to protect the hard work of our engineers. However, the application of a patent doesn't necessarily indicate that the technology described will be implemented in a product."

Talking to The Reg, one privacy campaigner who asked to remain anonymous said of tools such as Productivity Score and the Meeting Insight Computing System patent: "There is a simple dictum in privacy: you cannot lose data you don't have. In other words, if you collect it you have to protect it, and that sort of data is risky to start with.

"Who do you trust? The correct answer is 'no one'." ®


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