Evil eye? Google’s vision for the future.

pay-per-gaze creepy disturbingTo understand where Google is heading next in the world of advertising, consider this:  The company has just been granted a patent on its “pay-per-gaze” eye-tracking system.

You might wonder what that might be.

Pay-per-gaze is an ad system that utilizes Google Glass for tracking the ads that consumers see online and elsewhere.  The gaze-tracking capability comes from another Google innovation:  a head-mounted tracking device that communicates with a server.

According to the patent documentation, the tracking devices includes eyeglasses with side-arms that engage the ears of the user … a nose bridge that engages the nose of the user … and lenses through which the user views the external scenes wherein the scene images are captured in real-time.

And it need not be limited to tracking online advertising, either; pay-per-gaze functionality could potentially extend to billboards, magazines, newspapers and other printed media, Google notes.

But the idea is even more revolutionary than that:  Not only does it aim to measure how long an individual looks at an ad, but also how “emotionally invested” the consumer is by virtue of measuring pupil dilation.

So the tracking system not only will show how long someone looks at an ad, but also will measure the emotional response.  The patent also covers a provision for “latent pre-searching” which would display search results over a user’s field of vision using Google Glass or another wearable computer.

If all of this seems like “Big Brotherism” at its worst … you may well be correct.  But Google is doing its best to downplay such sinister connotations.  It’s emphasizing that users can opt out of “pay-per-gaze” tracking, and that all data will be anonymized.

But let’s get this straight:  The world’s biggest search engine was just granted a patent for the most “sticky” form of advertising possible – ads that literally flash in front of someone’s eyes.

And when we add in aspects like measuring pupil dilation, it won’t be long before Google will be able to determine how good eats, or good looks, are affecting our emotional response.

One wonders how much farther we can go with measuring advertising engagement and buying intent. 

Then again, we already have an answer, of sorts.  As early as 2000, experiments with electromagnetic brainwaves have shown that people can literally “think” instructions and thereby cause an action.

Imagine combining Google’s pay-per-gaze and pay-per-emotion with electromagnetic brainwave tracking.  Add in a credit card number, and there’s no telling what could happen just with a fleeting thought or two!

If all of this sounds creepy and disturbing … get used to it.  With the likes of Google and the NSA at the helm, “creepy and disturbing” may well become the “new normal” for society.

The European Union Versus Marketers

EU e-Privacy Initiative attacks ad tracking via cookiesI wonder how many marketers are focused on what’s happening in Europe on the digital marketing front? While companies here are busily engaged in making sure ad tracking is being done to the nth degree, in the UK and Continental Europe, new legal restrictions on advertising tracking threaten to upend a lot of these efforts, particularly for multinational brands.

In short, the EU’s e-Privacy Directive restricts the use of “cookies” and virtually all other digital ad tracking methods. And the legal frameworks set up around this directive would require any marketer with users in any EU country to be subject to EU-wide and country-specific privacy legislation.

The new privacy initiatives are far more restrictive than the present US-EU “safe harbor” agreement, which merely requires American companies to notify users when cookies are used on a website. The new regs covering web pages, web apps and mobile apps would require giving notice each time a cookie is used, thereby setting up a flurry of endless notifications that promises to seriously degrade the online browsing experience.

The seemingly reasonable compromise of adding information to a “terms of use” agreement isn’t acceptable to the EU either, unless all users are issued the new agreement and they certify their acceptance.

And just to make sure everyone knows how serious all of this is, the new regs call for the imposition of financial and/or criminal penalties for the non-compliant use of cookies. But for the moment at least, only two relatively small countries besides the UK – Estonia and Denmark – have implemented controls to enforce the EU directives.

Here in the United States, privacy legislation slowly wends its way around Congress, with many legislators understanding that the key to successful commerce online is the ability for marketers to match marketing messages to interested consumers. It’s in Europe where governments appear more than willing to cripple the ability of marketers to do the job they’ve sought to do for decades: Target their audiences with as much precision as possible.

As a result, some European businesses are making noises about abandoning Europe for the United States. The problem is, in the digital age with so much of the branding and commerce blurred between countries, it’s impossible for restrictive moves in one region not to cause negative repercussions somewhere else.