Slate considers advances in eye-tracking technology that allow cameras to capture the movement of our eyes and gather data about what we might be thinking — and how this could affect individual privacy:
Consider, for a moment, the following list: Republican. Abortion. Democrat. Future. Afghanistan. Health care. Same-sex marriage.
There is an enormous amount of information reflected in the way you just read that list. Did your eyes pause for a fraction of a second on certain words? Did your pupils dilate, ever so slightly, at any point while you were reading the list? For some words did your eyes blink at a different rate? Did you backtrack to reread any words, and if so, which ones, when, and for how long?
Eye-tracking, which uses images from one or more cameras to capture changes in the movements and structure of our eyes, can measure all of these things with pinpoint accuracy. There are many benevolent applications for eye-tracking, most notably in providing disabled people with a way to interact with objects on a screen. But recent advances are taking the technology into the mainstream, with the biggest initial applications likely to be in user interfaces and gaming.
Apple, for example, has filed a patent application for a three-dimensional, eye-tracking user interface, and European company Sensye aims to have its eye-tracking software built into smartphones next year. As eye-tracking becomes increasingly deployed in laptops, tablets, and smartphones in the coming years, it will open a new front in the fractious digital privacy debate. […]
Once the technology for eye-tracking is in place, it will glean information conveying not onlywhat we read online, but also how we read it. […]
This information will be collected, analyzed and resold to hundreds of companies—advertisers, data analytics providers, and others—across the digital ecosystem in what the industry calls the “mobile marketing value chain.” In theory, they will be anonymous, “nonpersonal” data. But in practice, the anonymity will be easy to penetrate. For example, eye-tracking data collected from tablets and smartphones will be tied to a “unique device identifier” associated with one specific device. These data will also be correlated to accurate location-tracking information, often to the precision of a specific home or commercial building.