We recently reported on the new patent that Google has been granted for gaze tracking technology that will track your eyeball movements while wearing their funky (but dorky) new wearable headset, Google Glass. The patent outlines how a small reverse-facing camera would monitor and track your eye movements, look duration and pupillary response to what you're looking at – which Google theoretically would also have access to via the device's front camera.
This new ''pay-per-gaze'' concept would tie this new gaze-tracking technology in with Google's biggest money spinner: targeted advertising. We already provide Google with plenty of demographic and individual data to better push products and services on us, simply through our Google log-in and online search activity, Gmail, YouTube and so on. But this new device add-on (which looks like it would be included in the consumer version of Glass, if everything goes as planned) would change everything.
For starters, it seems highly conceivable that the information collected would materialize in the form of advertising literally thrust in our faces via the Google Glass display, kind of like location based services do now on your smartphone but very much more in your consciousness (seeing it's a little harder to ignore Glass's readout). Also, this advertising would be based on your personality and interests much more specifically than anything your web-listed preferences and calibrated 'likes' etc could possibly define. By tracking your eye and the way you respond to images, places, people and advertising, Google would literally know what draws your attention, for how long and where and when. This would make selling you stuff that much simpler.
Pupillary response has been used for a long time by researchers to gauge emotional state, response to stimuli and mental effort but putting this kind of technology into the hands of an internet search engine on the forefront of personalized advertising opens up a Pandora's Box of questions: is it appropriate for a company that sells you a product to then use that product to collect further data about you in order to push more advertising on you (televisions, anyone?)? Would users have the option to opt-out (apparently yes)? Will we see some simple fixes to block the device's gaze-tracking camera (chewing gum)? Will public debate ensure the technology never makes it to the consumer version of the device (highly unlikely, this is Google)? Why wasn't it included in the Explorer version currently being tested now (slow patent process, or trying to slide Glass' real purpose in under the radar)?
Pay-per-gaze would be able to fine-tune the kinds of advertising directed to you so specifically you might not even be aware of the things you are interested in. We look at plenty of things and perhaps don't fully absorb or admit their effect on us, but believe me when I say, Google would be paying attention. Pay-per-gaze would charge advertisers only for the ads that people look at, and for how long they look at them. What's creepier yet, is that following this, the advertisers would be charged by how you respond to the advertising, based on emotional response. If your pupils dilate – meaning you're excited or interested by what you see – then advertisers pay more because Google has turned you on.
Now, Google has previously stated that developers would be banned from displaying ads on Glass, but they never said anything about Google displaying ads on Glass. Despite the creepy invasion of privacy and knowing-waaaay-more-than-they-should-about-people aspect, there are simple fixes for this: don't wear Glass. But this is like saying don't use the internet or don't have a bank account. If Glass becomes the smart device of the future then not having Glass would be like not having a cell phone now. We'll just have to wait and see if Glass is the future. But it's not all fire and brimstone.
By tracking your eye movements and pupillary response, advertising could become not only personalized and relevant, it could become indispensable to your daily life rather than a mild annoyance. I hate that Facebook shows me singles ads all the time because I foolishly listed my relationship status, but if Google knew what you liked, searched for, looked at and how you responded to it, they might actually be able to provide a service you didn't even know you needed. Imagine not having to go looking for things anymore because Google already knows you want them and could provide options for you without even having to ask? That could, actually, be incredibly helpful. In a highly consumerist kind of way of course. Like, if your car tire blows and you happen to respond more to stell-belt radial ads and then you have all the information you need without having to do anything other than have it on your mind.
The possibilities are as exciting as they are frightening, and I for one can't wait to see how this new patent is accepted by the tech community and society at large and just what it is capable of when (notice I don't say if) it is introduced. There will be a few months of debate and privacy advocates freaking out, advertisers rubbing their grubby little paws together in anticipation and many other people simply not caring. But it's safe to say that no matter how this all pans out, Google is going to make a whole lot of money.