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.

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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 Phys.org, 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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