According to the Sydney Morning Herald
which has condensed a piece by an organization called Future Tense (A name which could perhaps be the understatement of the 21st century...)
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.
This particular invasion of privacy has a real pedigree and is an evolutionary relative of the surveillance-mania in corporate America, but it has some new drivers. The theory of “see what they read/click and sell to it” in marketing isn’t anything like new, it’s decades old. The difference is that this option is a far more physical tracking method.
The theory here is that reading interest = “feed them more of that subject”. That’s a truly dumb potential issue. If you happen to read about a mass murder that happened next door, you could be hit with more news about mass murders elsewhere. Equally dumb is the general analysis idea that if you read about the Republicans, you want to read more about the Republicans.
Idiotic as it is, however, in surveillance terms, it has a lot going for it. If you read a lot about explosives, you could be a terrorist. Making the case for your being a terrorist would be pretty easy, too, if you’d spent hours reading about some particular chemicals and eating a lot of falafels.
The potential privacy killer, however, is that any subject could be targeted. Your right to read and make up your own mind could be used against you. Even being interested in a subject, in theory, could be a clue to your disgusting democratic insistence in having your own opinion and perhaps even actual information to back it up. (You monster, you.)
Orwell would have loved it. There’s a further option- “This person read a piece which says being shot is bad for people. We’ll send him/her a piece about how great it is to have a few dozen soft nose bullets in your head.” Contradictory information, written to order (I’ve seen it in scientific papers) is easy to produce. Your Great Cause could result in a lot of feeds from the Eye Think analysis saying it’s a scam, it’s treason, the founder was seen molesting slime moulds in 1976, etc. The propaganda and disinformation options are endless.
The actual father of what we now consider to be free speech was Gutenberg, with some help from Martin Luther. Reading and having the right and ability to process information and form your own opinions was central to the most basic tenets of modern democracy. Even Congress, corporate America and the nauseating collection of dung-based animals producing non-information around the clock haven’t really dented the ability of people to get hard information if they try.
This technology is a step backwards into the idiot oblivion of the time when even the information that the Earth orbited the Sun was considered subversive by the church and Da Vinci had to do secret anatomical studies. Eye Think is basically trying to undermine the simple process of reading and getting information, if you see it as any sort of threat.
The psych-obsession really doesn’t end- It just takes out patents. There are no laws against this type of surveillance, except the general principle of privacy. The makers of Eye Think technologies could claim that it’s not really much more than an extension of the current search preferences technology used by practically everyone.
That is a valid point, until it becomes a question of the right to information privacy. There’s no legal compulsion to reveal information you have to anyone but a court, anywhere on Earth. This is a weak spot in Eye Think’s raison d’etre, sorry Fascists.
An online document, written and distributed in confidence, could be analyzed, if someone decided to do some basic hacking and knew what the doc contained well enough to see where the reader was interested. If you know Clause 5 of a contract includes payment provisions, and the reader spends an hour on Clause 5, you know that clause has priority. You could make a counter offer in the knowledge that the reader was particularly interested in payment options, and very likely get the contract yourself.
If the document is a contract, a lawsuit or a business agreement, the chances of real damage, legal injury and a few healthy class actions against the technology are pretty good. Anyone could claim they lost a tender contract because someone analysed their reading of the docs. All they’d have to prove was that they were analysed while reading.
Ironically, this technology could easily convict itself in any legal challenge. If you establish the fact that the person reading was under surveillance by an analytical technology, invasion of privacy, business confidence, etc. is already proven. So can you prove your technology didn’t contribute to any negative results? Not easily, and not with much credibility.
From the marketing and advertising perspective, the case for Eye Think technology is even shakier. Sure, people read a lot of commercial information. They can’t avoid it. Reading, however, doesn’t translate into sales. A lot of people, myself included, read up on products before purchase- And don’t purchase, specifically because of the information they read. Giving them more information, particularly of the sorry type you see for so many products, will increase the loathing, not the love.
Now the big issue, which Myopia Central in corporate tech-land always seems to either miss or ignore- The other applications of this charming little snake pit of surveillance options. The Eye Think approach could make it possible to identify and know every piece of information or disinformation a person has received.
There’s even a mathematical version of this sort of invasion of privacy. Every web page and every document is different in many ways. One of the more obvious extrapolations of Eye think is that a specific document could be identified by eye movements, a reciprocal version of the existing software simply crunching numbers and making matches, much like face recognition.
The result would be “We know you read Digital Journal’s article on Eye Think, come out with your hands up”, for example. (Tell them I said hello, and that I think the clown suits, sequins and bulletproof vests are very becoming. Don’t worry about getting arrested, anyone who reads my stuff is considered by law to have suffered enough.)
To progress the argument-
To hell with Eye Think. This and all the other types of monitoring technology need an off switch so users can have real privacy. What’s needed are clearly defined No Go zones for people-monitoring technologies, and the immovable right to turn them off and demand that they’re not used.
How’s this for a resistance slogan against monitoring technologies-
“Eye Think, therefore I’m entitled to sue the DNA out of your grandchildren.”
Just a thought.