How Entrepreneurs Are Making Money Off Your Eyes

Eye tracking technologies have been around for years. They use a combination of different sensory technologies to know not only where your eyes are looking, but also what they are focused on specifically. In the near future, they will likely be embedded in our mobile devices, TVs, and laptops. The leading companies in the field are being snatched up faster than the Gushers during snack time in Professor Kane’s class. Companies like Google and Facebook are leading the charge in these acquisitions and it makes sense why, they have much to gain by “owning” the data that comes from eye tracking. This data can be quite telling of user behavior and can give necessary insight into why a certain technology may or may not be widely adopted.

 

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Okay, cool. Who cares?

I care, and so should you. As the writer of this post, my WordPress statistics will show me that I had X people read my blog, but realistically, only a fraction of those viewers read through it in its entirety. As a result, a high number of viewers may lead me to believe that my post was successful and that I should try to replicate a similar writing style with a different topic. However, it is quite possible that my blogpost’s underlying message reached far fewer people than what I was told. With eye tracking technology, I would actually be able to view where my readers were most likely to look away from my blog and where they may have read faster or slower. This information is powerful, with it, I can edit my writing to be more compelling in the exact areas where it is weak and be more clear where it may be confusing (aka where viewers go back and read the same line over and over). This is only one small area where eye tracking technologies will cause entropy within digital business, here are some other exciting use cases:

Advertisement:

Data analytics within digital advertisement has become more detailed and widespread than it ever has. Companies use digital advertisers like Facebook and Instagram to push their branding and products onto customers who are segmented by differing demographics. These companies can track click through rates, time spent viewing an ad, purchase conversions, and other analytics that help determine whether their growth in revenue exceeded their marketing costs of paid advertisement. However, these companies don’t really know if they have the attention of a viewer’s eyes. High click through rates may have been due to users clicking an ad by accident because of where it was positioned or that 50-seconds of time a user spent “viewing” a company’s ad may have the been due to the fact that the viewer got up and went to the bathroom. Eye tracking technology will help to determine exactly how long and where the end viewer is actually focusing on an ad. Advertisement companies will pay big money to have that information just so that they can repackage it and sell it to their clients.

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VR/AR:

Our eyes determine what images our brain will process… DUHHH. This basic principle is so important in VR/AR wearables because they need to know what your eyes are focused on so they can create more realistic and detailed environments. VR/AR companies also use these types of eye tracking technologies to enhance the digital quality of the media a viewer sees. As many of you know or have experienced, there has been a longterm issue with VR/AR wearables causing nausea. Focusing on where a user’s eyeballs were looking while becoming nauseated may hold the solution to this problem.

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Health:

Our eye movements are often telling of different types of neurological disorders and impairments. Researchers and entrepreneurs have been able to use this technology to help diagnose concussions, early autism, and improve reading abilities. These technologies will also help track how our eyes are affected by the constant bombardment of LCD/LED lit screens via our televisions, computers, and mobile devices.

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Ethics:

Companies across the world will slowly be able to track eyeball movement with pin-point accuracy from our smartphones alone.

Is that ethical?

“I have no idea.”

It will soon have to come into question whether or not tracking our eyeball movement is a breach of our privacy. Even if anonymity is kept by the companies collecting such information, is it even theirs to collect? There have been similar issues this past year facing devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. These devices are listening when they are not even technically on. How do we know this? We have to say “Alexa” before the Amazon Echo turns on, meaning it (she?) was listening for its (her?) name. Proponents of the technologies say that these devices use AI to actually learn the dynamic of their owner’s household in order to offer more accurate recommendations and relevant responses. However, it is unclear to me that tracking eye movement and storing that data will better the experience of end users.

Future:

This technology can be extremely disruptive in advertisement in the near-term, but its limits seem endless. With the current progression of VR/AR, it seems that humans will be using some type of eyewear in the near future, whether that be a much improved form of Google Glass or a form of smart contact lens.  Regardless, these technologies will help reveal where any individual is looking at any time. This could have major implications. Imagine what would happen if I were in a car accident and claimed that I was focusing on the road, but my contact lenses actually report that I was looking down at the radio… insurance companies would have a field day and lawyers would lose the ability to fight thousands of claims cases.  The potential scenarios for the consequences and benefits of this technology are endless. So please, comment with any concerns or benefits you may see with the onset of this type of technology both in digital business and in the world.

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Sources:

https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/19/unlocking-the-potential-of-eye-tracking-technology/

http://www.eyegaze.com/4-eye-tracking-technology-applications-you-may-not-know/

 

10 comments

  1. Crazy idea, but I love it. I wish I could track which parts of my blogs people read and don’t read. Like you mentioned, I bet the Google Glass and Snapchat Lenses will start to incorporate technology like this eventually. I’m curious to know how the data would be used, though. Would it be for the consumer, sold to companies, or maybe both? The consumer could use the technology in everyday activities. For example, if I’m walking down the street wearing the glasses and I stop to look at a restaurant, maybe Google Glass would then track my gaze and send me the menu/hours/details about that restaurant. The technology could also be used by companies to create better ads by looking at the data in similar ways to what you described above, like tracking what do consumers look at when they walk around, shop, check their phones, etc. It will be interesting to see where they go with this.

    1. I’m not sure, I think both. From a consumer experience, that data could help with recommendations in our daily lives like your restaurant example. Imagine if someone who walked by you was wearing something that you may be interested in based on your Amazon and retail purchases, you could be notified, see what the product looks like in person, and probably even buy it immediately… crazy endless possibilities. I have no doubt that companies will be spending huge money for that type of data, still gives me the creeps that someone can see through my eyes, but we will see where it goes!

  2. Great post. If you are interested in this topic and are Netflix user check out Black Mirror S1E3. I will warn you that it is rather creepy, but the story is based around the smart contact lens. Like any black mirror episode it gets really dark, but the story line is believable. Imagine if your whole life could be recorded and saved by a smart lens. Would you want that?

    Anyways, I would say that eye tracking is unethical, but I see the value in it for companies. I am guilty of skimming and my eyes catch certain works or images. Knowing what “catches the eye” of a consumer if very important so I imagine that more companies will being putting R & D towards this.

    1. Saw that episode! Pretty incredible how spot on they may be of the potential consequences of such a technology.

  3. Nice post! I must admit I found some sections more interesting than others, and thus only “skimmed” through a couple! I was especially interested in your first point relating possible applications for readership metrics (using blog posting as an example); right now Analytics pretty much give us # of readers; what sites they come from and go to; average time spent one the page, and they like. But it would fabulous to know how long a user’s eye stayed on specific images or passages, giving greater insight into exactly which content is resonating. That would really help writers hone their marketability. Are you aware of any companies that are looking to do this in terms of web analytics? And would the reader need to be wearing “smart-lens” or VR/AR gear, or are we talking all devices suddenly starting to scan eyes from the webcam natively (then we get into those ethical and privacy questions)?

    1. I am not aware of specific examples, but I have faith that some companies are exploring it now. Many of the applications for this technology have the actual sensors within the camera itself, so it actually wouldn’t require a smart-lens or wearable… the ethics of it all definitely start getting into the grey.

  4. Awesome post! Though I’ve heard of a few different uses of eye tracking in advertising, I never really realized how game-changing it could be for so many different industries and you did a great job pointing out just how useful it can be! Personally, I think the data is super useful, especially for marketing purposes, whether that be for someone trying to better tailor their writing style to their audience, or a large brand trying to determine which platforms to advertise on.

    The idea of a smart contact lens really scares me, though. As awesome as the technology would be, I think that if you added a google glass-like technology to people’s everyday lives, you could definitely see a complete change in our education systems and even the way we interact with one another. I’m not sure I’m super comfortable with people always having so much information literally in front of their eyes, forming a part of their visible world. I could see it not only getting confusing, but also changing human behavior in a way that decreases our own willingness to learn/retain information. I guess that is what a lot of people say about the ubiquity of smartphones and smart devices, which I generally disagree with, but the idea of having the information of the internet available constantly doesn’t quite sit right with me.

    1. I don’t blame you, it doesn’t sit right with me yet either. Maybe we’re already becoming our parent’s generation, afraid of adopting the newest greatest and latest technology…

  5. Great post. In fact, some BC professors are leaders in the eyetracking technology. Prof Gips developed a program called Eagle Eyes that allows severely disabled kids use a computer for the first time. Pretty amazing stuff.

    1. Always surprised by the BC faculty, that’s incredible.

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