A Question of Privacy

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In a recently granted patent (US No. 8,510,166), Google describes a “head mounted device”, for example hi-tech glasses, that tracks eye movement and monitors reactions to external stimuli, including changes in emotion.

The patent suggests that Google would use the technology to analyze reactions to advertisements that the user is watching on a television, computer, or other viewing device (e.g. a smart phone).

According to the specification, miniscule inward facing cameras would be used to track pupil dilation and feed back the information to a web connected server.

The invention is described as follows:

“A gaze tracking technique is implemented with a head mounted gaze tracking device that communicates with a server. The server receives scene images from the head mounted gaze tracking device which captures external scenes viewed by a user wearing the head mounted device. The server also receives gaze direction information from the head mounted gaze tracking device.

The gaze direction information indicates where in the external scenes the user was gazing when viewing the external scenes. An image recognition algorithm is executed on the scene images to identify items within the external scenes viewed by the user. A gazing log tracking the identified items viewed by the user is generated.”

According to the patent, the technology would be able to monitor what the user was watching and how long they watched it for. In theory, this would allow Google to generate the relevant analytics to charge advertisers based on how long a user looks at an advertisement.

“The inferred emotional state information can be provided to an advertiser so that the advertiser can gauge the success of their advertising campaign.” the patent says.

The application also indicates that users would be able to access a “gazing log” that would track everything they had previously looked at, similar to a web browser history log.

While the patent maintains that any personal data will be removed from any data provided to advertisers, the idea of literally having one’s memories and emotions “captured” and processed by such a device is enough to make anyone who values privacy feel a bit uncomfortable.

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