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Originally published August 19, 2013 at 8:08 PM | Page modified August 20, 2013 at 6:40 PM

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Google patents system for tracking what you see

The head-mounted eye-tracking system could enable “pay per gaze advertising,” or a method of charging advertisers when a wearer views certain images online or in the real world.

San Jose Mercury News

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If we’re all going to be wearing Internet-connected headsets in the future, why not charge advertisers for what we see, and how it makes us feel?

That seems to be the idea behind a patent awarded to Google last week for a head-mounted eye-tracking system that could enable “pay per gaze advertising,” or a method of charging advertisers when a wearer views certain images online or in the real world.

By measuring pupil dilation, at least in theory, the system could also determine the wearer’s “emotional state” at the time of viewing.

Google hasn’t announced any plans for the patent, and sources said no plans are in the works.

While the idea sounds like it could work with Glass, the wearable Internet gadget that Google has been developing for consumer use, the company’s current rules forbid any advertising on Glass.

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

But the patent file, spotted last week by a blogger for Fast Company, contains an intriguing description of a system for “receiving scene images from a head-mounted gaze-tracking device,” which would track eye movement through a lens or small prism in front of the wearer’s eyes.

In theory, the system would then identify the images, presumably using some kind of recognition software, and generate a log of “identified items” that the person has seen.

One potential use for the information would be to charge advertisers every time a wearer views a scene that includes an ad — whether it’s an online commercial or a billboard in the real world, according to the patent.

The system could also trigger the display of an online ad tied to whatever the wearer is seeing in the real world.

The patent says the system could even measure how long a person looked at the ad and what image within a scene drew the wearer’s attention.

And, if that’s not enough, it could measure pupil dilation to determine the wearer’s “emotional state” at the time of viewing.

“Further, the inferred emotional state information can be provided to an advertiser (perhaps for a premium fee) so that the advertiser can gauge the success of their advertising campaign,” the patent summary explains.

“For example, if the advertiser desires to generate a shocking advertisement to get noticed or a thought-provoking advertisement, then the inferred emotional state information and/or the gazing duration may be valuable metrics to determine the success of the campaign with real-world consumers.”

While the idea raises questions about privacy and other social concerns, the patent documents state that “to protect individual privacy, personal identifying data may be removed from the data and provided to the advertisers as anonymous analytics.”

It adds that “users may be given opt-in or opt-out privileges to control the type of data being gathered.”

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