Fast Track to Fashion

The following is a post from Frank X. Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications at Microsoft.

One of the best parts of my job is getting the chance to see up close and personal some of the cool things moving from idea to reality. During one of our recent “underground tours” we showed off one project that I think has huge potential, and is super relevant today. This is a little different for us because when it goes on sale, you won’t find it in the electronics aisle, but on the runway. :)

Why runway? Well unlike most of Microsoft’s traditional products, this one is actually an item of clothing, so when it ships, you’ll probably see it at Nordstrom’s, not Fry’s. Now you’re probably thinking, “Clothing, from Microsoft? Really?” Yes, really. And no, this isn’t a line of designer pocket protectors.

The engineers that created it describe it as “a wearable computing appliance that enforces context specific privacy preferences in real world environments.” Let me translate into a better name – The Do Not Tracksuit .

Simply put, it blocks the wearer from being tagged, checked in, scanned, filmed, recorded, hashtagged or poked, in the real world and the virtual world. Because in today’s social media obsessed landscape, too often people can unwittingly become “content” in other people’s lifecasting schemes. And if you haven’t noticed, there is some testing going on that will make this a lot more complicated! Since people are increasingly becoming “brands,” maintaining some control over your digital identity is simply a common sense form of brand management.

That’s hard enough to do online, but it’s nearly impossible when you walk out your door every day and enter a world filled with people who seem determined to document your presence using an array of devices and services.

At the same time, contextual advertising will soon make the leap from online to the physical realm, and we know consumers are concerned.

One project engineer put it this way: “Remember that scene in Minority Report where all of the billboards started calling him by name? We thought consumers deserved to opt out of that sort of thing. The Do Not Tracksuit is our first step.”

Using a combination of NFC, RFID, Bluetooth 5.2 and infrared emitter technology optimized in our labs, the Do Not Tracksuit is smart enough to detect specific device/app vectors and neutralize them in accordance with the wearer’s intent. It doesn’t simply block all social media behavior in its proximity. Using proven SmartScreen technology, the suit can tell the difference between your mom tagging a great churro in Foodspotting and a frenemy tagging your photo in Foursquare.

With fuzzy logic algorithms  it can identify an attempted tracking behavior within a 100th of a second and select the precise frequency needed to neutralize it, blurring an image, garbling a recording, or jamming an upload in near real time.

And with repeated use, it improves its reaction time, building a branch-predicting profile of the people the wearer encounters and their preferred method of over-sharing.

While the initial focus is on simply blocking unwanted behavior and protecting privacy in the v1 product, plans are already well underway for a v2 release.

In ethnographic studies our researchers saw that privacy protection is the first step, but what consumers would really like is the ability to game the system to their advantage. Instead of simply preventing yourself from being tagged, why not substitute an image or a tag of your choosing?

· When somebody tries to check you in at a bar, why not replace it with a check in at the library?

· If a friend tags you at a Justin Bieber concert, why not switch it to the Black Keys?

Just think of the satisfaction you’ll have when your brother-in-law returns home after a double date with you and reviews his glasses video and discovers he was sitting across from Master Chief and Honey Boo Boo. :)

“I like to think of it as a personal cloaking device that helps maintain my Klout score,” said one tester of an early alpha unit that was concealed in a hoodie.

Over the last few years, Microsoft has come to be known as a leader in two areas: privacy and natural user interfaces. This new initiative brings those two innovation priorities together in spectacular fashion. Pun intended.

As is increasingly the case, Microsoft will offer this technology to other design houses so they can create their own clothing using the reference spec.

The Do Not Tracksuit will be available at retail the first day of the second quarter in 2014.