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They’re watching you: eye-tracking system spies on you online

They’re watching you: eye-tracking system spies on you online

User Vision’s software can tell where you've been peeking...and they'll tell brands about it...

May 17, 2011 2:04 by

A computer tracks your eyes as you look at a website. It knows where you looked, how long you looked, and where you looked next. The ad you caught a glimpse of, the text you skimmed, and the section you swore you never looked at. Every glance, no matter how surreptitious, can be tracked.

Luckily for those with wandering eyes, only willing volunteers will be monitored.

User Vision, an independent company offering cross-platform user experience research, usability testing, interaction design and Web accessibility, is expanding to the UAE. Managing director Chris Rourke says the company, which mainly operates in Europe, is due to open its Dubai offices in a few months. Among its other services, it advises clients on how to improve user experiences on their websites and other platforms. Among other technology, User Vision’s eye tracking can, well, track subjects’ eyes as they move around websites, television ads, prints ads, mobile phones and more. And special glasses can track eye movements in real-life situations such as shopping trips to stores and supermarkets.

Communicate recently went to a media briefing held by the company. At the end of the presentation, Rourke asked if anyone would like to volunteer for the eye tracking demo. Communicate was tempted. But do we want others to know where we look? Uhh… No. So we sat still and waited for someone else to volunteer. Thankfully, someone did.

He was asked to sit in front of a computer and first had to follow a red dot moving across the screen, watching carefully as it stopped and got smaller. Then he was asked to go to the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s (DEWA) website and try to find the DEWA office nearest to the Umm Ramool area in Dubai. (That’s not an easy task.)

Once the task was over, Rourke played a video that showed a moving red dot on the screen, demonstrating how the volunteer’s eyes had moved around the page. The dot expanded in areas he looked at longer. A numbered “gaze trail” is a join-the-dots map showing this movement, and attention can also be depicted as a “heat map,” which shows the intensity with which people view different parts of the screen.

Jameel Is’haq, business development executive at User Vision, says that while gaze trails are better for interpreting each test subject’s reactions, “heat maps are more powerful when you collectively look at everyone.” The data can be used to compare “areas of interest” within a page as well.

User Vision’s technology can also help interpret reactions to websites and ads; pupil dilation and blink rate can show the depth of emotion content evokes.

User Vision is keen to talk to ad agencies, adds Rourke. He says his company could help back up agencies’ work or ideas with “empirical evidence,” collected using tools such as eye tracking and emotion research. “The eye tracking or the emotionresearch on the ads, for instance, will show which ad really has that stopping [power or] connects with users. That needs to be weighed up with qualitative discussion – we like, we don’t like – [to determine] which one will have that physiological ‘Wow’ factor.”

What interests Communicate most are the glasses test subjects can wear to stores. These can record a video of where a shopper looked, to help clients figure out whether and how quickly subjects notice their products or ads in-store.

So far the glasses are only being used for research purposes and on selected test subjects. But if they were to go up for sale in the market, we’re pretty sure girlfriends and wives would be the first ones to buy them for their partners.

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1 Comment

  1. MK on May 18, 2011 10:47 am

    I’m bit skeptical…it might start like that, but then as this technology catches on, who knows what the limitations will become.
    One might say this new vision could easily become in(vision) of privacy!!!


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