Google have recently filed for a patent to protect their concept for biometric response technology which they believe will help to serve users with more effective search results.
They are planning on developing technology that will analyse biometric responses to search results, for example frowning at results you aren’t happy with or smiling if you find what you’re looking for. This will enable Google to tailor results based on customer satisfaction, giving their search results an additional ranking factor to set them apart from other search engines.
The results could be gathered by using the camera on a mobile device or in-built webcam on a laptop. Various biometrics that could be tracked include:
- Facial expressions
- Increased or decreased blinking rates
- Pupil dilation
- Eye twitching or movements
- Changes in heart rate or body temperature
Is biometric response tracking one step too far?
This detailed tracking is frightening for anyone who cares about their privacy. Knowing that every Google search you perform will analyse your face through your camera is a scary thought. Do you really want your camera recording you whenever you use Google? Probably not.
In fact, Google’s plans for storing facial data could break data protection laws. In America, Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act forbids companies to save facial recognition data about a user without their explicit permission. It gives consumers the right to sue if they discover their facial information or fingerprints are being stored without permission.
Just this week, this Act was contested and debated in order to discuss whether it should be overturned. It’s rumoured that tech giants Google and Facebook are in support of overturning the Act – and given Google’s patent request, it’s easy to see why they are unlikely to support it.
However, even if there are no laws to prevent biometric tracking, the question remains: is this a step too far in Google’s quest to serve users with the most relevant search results?
If this technology does get rolled out as standard, the potential implications for where it could lead are huge. Google will hold perfect facial profiles of everyone who uses its service. That data could be built in to facial recognition services that could be used throughout our society.
In the film Minority Report, when searching for fugitive Tom Cruise the police release robots that seek out all people in the area (they identify body temperature) and scan their eyes to discover their identity. Once Google have the data, it would be possible for them to develop products such as this.
In the same film, everyone’s eyes are scanned when they walk into shops which allow in-store billboards and advertisements to change to suit that individual’s shopping habits. Whilst it might be a bit of a jump to assume Google biometric tracking would lead to this, it’s certainly feasible.
If biometric analysis spreads to this level of tracking (stalking?), you won’t ever be able to leave your house without your every move being tracked. It’s Big Brother to the ultimate extreme. Are we really ready for that?