Microsoft patent lets parents remotely lock child mobile devices

A new patent application filed by the tech giant would give parents ultimate, absolute control over their children's smartphones and tablets.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on

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."

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