Google patents ‘pay-per-gaze’ eye-tracking ad technology

Google has been granted a set of patents for eye-tracking advertising technology, which could detect when a person is looking at an advert – be it online or offline – and infer their emotional response to it.

Google Glass

The “gaze” tracking technique would be implemented with a head-mounted device – such as Google Glass – which then communicates to a server, allowing Google to create “pay-per-gaze” that would register whether an individual has looked at an ad before charging the brand, similar to “cost-per-click”.

The patent application, which was filed in 2011 but was only granted to the company last week according to, also says the technology could infer “emotional state information” by measuring a user’s pupil dilation.

The amount charged could depend on whether the user looks directly at an ad, how long they look for and whether a given emotional state is sparked as a result. Google could also charge advertisers for accumulated analytics garnered from multiple users of the platform, for a “premium fee”.

The application states: “To date, eye tracking systems have been mostly limited to research endeavours because of the intrusiveness, high cost, and reliability of these systems. A technique and system that can provide a reliable, low cost, and unobtrusive eye tracking system could have a variety of useful everyday applications.”

Such a move could extend Google’s expansive online advertising business into more conventional forms of media, such as newspapers, magazines and outdoor. It could, however, spark privacy concerns.

In a bid to allay any unease, the patent says individual’s privacy would be protected by the removal of personal identifying data – which would also be encrypted – so advertisers would only be provided anonymous analytics. In addition, the patent suggests it could offer users opt-in or opt-out privileges, to control the type of data being gathered and to whom it might be shared.

A Google spokeswoman says: ”We hold patents on a variety of ideas. Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents.”

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