It's okay if you need to read that headline again. It's pretty confusing. Here's the gist of it: Microsoft filed a patent
in June of 2008 for the automatic generation of an Avatar
based on a user's physical health. The patent application, discovered by 1UP
, specifically details an "avatar generator" that "reflects a physical characteristic of the user." Physical data about the user would be used to "reflect a degree of health of the real person." In turn, this could be linked to "rewards of capabilities of a gaming avatar, an amount of time budgeted to play, or a visible indication." In other words, the patent is all about "injecting a degree of reality" into Avatar appearances, thus encouraging users to exercise and maintain a more active lifestyle.
Beyond this, the filing also explains that the generator could be used to reflect all kinds of data about a person, including religious beliefs, politics, hobbies, and even intelligence. Such information could help users connect with like-minded individuals. The patent application even notes that the generator could take "hidden physical characteristics such as allergies, chronic conditions, etc" into account, thus helping users find other players with similar conditions that might "understand someone with a like condition."
So, theoretically, just how would Microsoft obtain all this personal information? Simple identifiers, like political affiliation, would likely be disclosed by the user. Other physical data would be obtained "nonvolitionally," in order to avoid "the inconvenience or unaccountability of voluntarily supplied information." Microsoft suggests that the data could be gathered by "a third party health data collection repository, a healthcare smart card, a real-time physiological sensor (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose, peak flow, pedometer, etc.)."
The idea of a health sensor of some kind sounds safe enough, and the concept isn't too far off from existing products like Wii Fit
. On the other hand, data gathered by a third-party agency sounds like the absolute last
thing we would want to share with Xbox Live. Granted, these are proposed features, detailed in a patent application, and are certainly not
part of an actual product yet. It's likely that any such product would probably be pretty innocent -- perhaps a Natal
health game. Additionally, some of the ideas in the patent -- specifically the idea of removing some of the anonymity of online interactions -- are pretty intriguing.