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Eye-tracking could represent an invasion of privacy

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A German study published last year in the midst of the rise of the Covid-19 epidemic has gone fairly unnoticed. And yet, she was interested in eye-tracking, namely all the techniques used to record eye movements. Used in research, these same techniques are also of great interest to advertisers.

Eye-tracking collects a lot of data

Oculometry (or eye-tracking) is the scientific name given to eye movement tracking technologies. Increasingly popular in research, eye-tracking is also popular in virtual reality and augmented reality. Sometimes this technology is also found in other areas. In 2018, researchers managed to control a drone with their eyes, and in 2015, an artist managed to materialize shapes on a computer.

But there you have it, eye-tracking actually records a lot of information. This is in any case a point on which insists a study published in March 2020 in Confidentiality and identity management. Data for better living: artificial intelligence and privacy. The German scientists behind this research claim that this technology manages to collect information on the biometric identity of the user.

This information includes age, gender, weight, ethnicity, personality, interests, drug use patterns, and emotional state and sexual preferences. The researchers also indicate that eye-tracking could reveal certain disorders such as autism, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Close up of biometric retina scan.

Risks to privacy

This conclusion may be frightening, but it is simply explained. Study authors say eye tracking doesn’t just capture gaze location as coordinates. It also records the duration of fixations, saccades, but also the speed and acceleration of eye movements. She is also able to observe the pupil dilation. However, this can be an indicator of sexual arousal, the effects of drugs, fear or even damage to the brain.

Eye-tracking can further tell if the eyes are red, watery or dry. It can also analyze the color of the iris or identify facial expressions, eyebrow movements and the presence of wrinkles. These characteristics can serve to identify an individual and according to the researchers, a simple smartphone camera might suffice. Moreover, this technology allows to have indications on the way in which people think and on their intelligence or their tendencies to anxiety and aggressiveness.

If eye-tracking promises many technological advances, advertisers are also very interested in it. German scientists therefore evoke privacy risks, currently partially covered by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. However, these researchers believe that a new regulatory framework will have to be put in place in order to fully protect citizens in the face of potential abuse.


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