Microsoft patent lets parents remotely lock child mobile devices

Microsoft patent lets parents remotely lock child mobile devices

Summary: A new patent application filed by the tech giant would give parents ultimate, absolute control over their children's smartphones and tablets.

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As more children get their hands on mobile devices, Microsoft wants to appeal to parents seeking ways to control and monitor what their child uses their smartphone or tablet for.

In a filing made public 29 August, Microsoft's new patent application -- n.20130225152 -- revealed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) states that parents could be able to use a centralized dashboard to monitor and set restrictions on a mobile device.

Whether you've given your child a smartphone to keep them occupied and hope they don't accidentally send work emails or buy virtual items that physically cost thousands through in-app purchases, or your soon-to-be-teenager wants a phone to fit in, these types of controls could be useful.

Originally spotted by Geekwire, the parent application says that the software could be used to set restrictions including use overnight, or set a phone so it can only call parents, a "white list" of contacts and emergency numbers. This type of "lock screen" can be kept in place for a certain time period, depending on the controlling party.

Aspects of the phone that could be disabled include games, text messaging, email, browsers and social network applications. These restrictions can be permanent or set depending on time and location. For example, a parent can lock most features of the phone when they know their child will be in school or at night.

If you find it difficult to switch off in the evening, this kind of "lock screen" can also be self-imposed for a specific time period, or prematurely ended through a keystroke sentence or swiping gesture.

Parents can use a special kind of dashboard to keep track of family mobile devices. The patent says that the dashboard can include "a visual summary of an individual family member's phone usage, history, restrictions, settings, and the like. Furthermore, the parent dashboard allows the family control member to set restrictions, grant accesses, and allocate information to the other family members in a family group."

If you happen to be the bill payer, the dashboard will also notify you when children go over their text and call allowances, and in response, you can automatically lock their devices.

Considering how many kids are clued-up on how mobile technology works, the patent also describes a feature which lets parents know if they've been duped:

The parent dashboard can also be implemented to display the last changes and/or setting adjustments to the dashboard itself, so that for example, if a kid changes the parent dashboard on a hub member's phone device, the parent will be able to detect the changed settings. The parent dashboard may be implemented for viewing with an additional level of security on the authoritative, parent's phone device, such as by biometric detection or by entering a different access code used to lockout access to the parent dashboard. 

It is worth noting that this type of patent, if accepted and used by the tech giant, is not restricted to parent-child relationships. "It should be readily apparent that this relationship may also be utilized for a variety of other similar controlling device/controlled device implementations," the patent reads. "These could include employer/employee, teacher/student, and so on. Also, techniques described herein could be used for self-imposed, self-controlling quieting of a user's own mobile devices."

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Education

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12 comments
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  • Not restricted to parent-child relationships

    One should also include that the NSA, subsidiary, partners, or relationships to the intelligence services as well.

    Sounds like another step towards full spectrum control.
    Astringent
    • Take the tin-foil hat off.

      Things like that already exist.

      Go to any school or enterprise, and you'll see that an admin controls the computers.

      They can monitor, power off, and/or restrict permissions any time they want to.

      They can even utilize the webcam to monitor you if needed.

      Has that ever led to any major problems?

      No.

      If the NSA and its allies wanted to monitor you, they would've utilized said existing services to do so.
      ForeverCookie
      • Actually, the webcam thing on school laptops

        did raise a ruckus a while back. Seems like it was maybe 3 years ago or so, somewhere in Pennsylvania I think. The school paid a settlement, can't remember the full details. Guess I should hunt it up, but anyway, there have been issues with webcam spying. These were also school issued laptops if my memory is correct. However, I don't see minor children suing their parents for overly strict parental controls...though in today's society, nothing would surprise me! If someone has a complaint, there's probably a lawyer somewhere that would file a suit for them, for a fee of course!
        wizard57m-cnet
  • Remote Phone Locking ?

    Another ridiculous patent award as there is plenty of prior art on this and obviousness.
    Alan Smithie
    • Now the REALLY patentable program would be ...

      Something that roots the device and sandboxes the control so that it LOOKS to the dashboard like the controls are still in place when they're really NOT -- including fake contacts with "appropriate" sites, etc., to simulate the usage the parents EXPECT to see according to the locks in place.

      Of course, with real-time capability so if the parent changes anything the program sends appropriate responses!
      Rick_R
    • Not about phone locking. If you think you have

      examples of prior art then you'll have no one to blame but yourself if you don't bring it to the attention of the patent office and put forth such a persuasive iron clad case that they unanimously concur and immediately deny the application without prejudice. I'm sure you'll be getting right on that as the totally committed patent fairness crusader that you are.
      Johnny Vegas
  • Too late

    Nice try Microsoft, but you're too late. Apple applied for and was granted a patent on children in 2009, so your work is clearly derivative and your patent will soon be stricken down as invalid.
    dsf3g
    • Patent on children???

      gosh. Now all parents will have to pay licensing fees?
      ForeverSPb
  • Srs Not a good Patent

    What is the patentable subject matter? That it's for kids or because it is simplified Remote Parental Controls? All of these abilities are already possible ... the USPTO really needs software engineers to review these claims, because they have no clue what is non-obvious.
    Vapur9
  • Brilliant Microsoft make the kids resist you right from the get go...

    Nothing spells success like alienating potential future customers right off the bat.

    No wonder you have only 8% of the market...
    MSBPodcast
    • 8% of the market?

      Last time I checked, MS had >90%, and Apple had less than 8%.
      ForeverCookie
  • Patents Don't LET Anyone Do Anything

    They only allow the patent holder to PREVENT others from doing something they could before.
    ldo17