Where privacy ends and transparency begins

Where privacy ends and transparency begins

At Tobii, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future, and the potential of technologies such as Tobii eye tracking to have a positive impact on the world. In fact, our mission at Tobii is “to improve the world with technology that understands human attention and intent.” 


Using eye tracking as a force of good 

In XR, on PCs, in vehicles, in medical devices, and for a wide range of other devices, we see new kinds of sensors being integrated all the time that provide a lot of insight-rich data about users.  


Transparence-blog_productsSample of products with Tobii eye tracking

These sensors, combined with increasingly sophisticated AI and machine learning algorithms are enabling the devices we use every day to become increasingly responsive to users, and for applications to become more people-centric than ever before.   

how-it-worksAt At Tobii, we believe we can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, enable new kinds of innovation, and profoundly change and improve the way that people interact with the devices and technologies around them.  

We also understand that this dream, to make the world better, will only happen if people understand, trust, and eventually at scale embrace technologies such as eye tracking and attention computing. One of the most important first steps is to explain some of the benefits that come with devices that are better able to understand their users.  

For example, information from an eye tracking device, when combined with the right software and expertise, can be used to help treat medical conditions (such as lazy eye in a child) or improve the visual fidelity of a display via foveated rendering. It can be used to help give someone the ability to generate digital speech with their eyes or to evaluate proficiency related to vital skills like reading ability and comprehension.  

 nova-sight-tablet-girlMore use cases

Benefits like these only come when people trust the application they are using and feel in control about how their personal information is collected, transferred, and used. If that is not dealt with in a trustworthy manner, it can lead to concern over privacy and integrity and slow down the large-scale adoption of technologies such as eye tracking.  

It is the same kind of concern that drives people to put tape over the web-cameras on their computers or to avoid turning on a virtual assistant on a mobile phone.  

The best way we know to help people really see the great benefits that come with eye tracking, while at the same time becoming comfortable with new technology, is by being proactively transparent when the technology is being used, explaining what it is being used for, and giving individuals a chance to decide if they want to continue.  


This transparency is particularly important because technologies such as eye tracking produces sensitive data, that can be used for a huge variety of applications.  


While it is easy to understand the value of a technology that can help treat a medical condition or improve a display, these examples also hint at the power of technologies like eye tracking, and why it is so important to consider guidelines for developers and hardware manufacturers that will help them earn and deserve the trust of their end-users.


To Tobii, the best way to earn this trust is via radical transparency 


It is very important to note that the concept of data transparency here is different than the kinds of user privacy protections granted in frameworks such as GDPR. In fact, while we at Tobii absolutely see the value of privacy protections such as GDPR, we actually feel they don’t do anywhere near enough to address the kinds of information and knowledge that can be gained via technologies such as eye tracking and attention computing.  

So, what exactly do we mean by transparency? Well, it is straightforward. In fact, for the last few years, Tobii has had a public data transparency policy that states:   

Any application that stores or transfers eye tracking data information needs to comply with a short and clear list of rules. These rules include:  

  • Notify the user that eye tracking data is being stored or transferred and for what purpose that information will be used.  
  • Make sure that the user agrees for this to be done.   
  • Provide a visual indication for the user when eye tracking data is being stored or transferred.  
  • And explain the explicit benefit the user will receive by having their information stored or transferred in this way (optional).  

Transparence-blog_web_BVisit the policy page here 


That’s it – and it's very simple. But, for this to be effective, we think that hardware manufacturers, software developers, and industry organizations and standards bodies need to work together to agree on and implement a common approach to transparency for all kinds of sensitive biometric signals.  

And, we think, it starts with a conversation. That is why Tobii would love to hear from you. What do you think about data transparency standards like the one highlighted above? What is your company or group doing to address these concerns? Are you part of an organization that works with this topic? 

The more discussions we have, the more people involved, the better we as an entire industry can understand these important issues and take the right steps to address them. To join the conversation, you can email us here at transparency@tobii.com


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Henrik Eskilsson

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Henrik Eskilsson

Hi, I am one of Tobii's founders and a board member since 2021. I work with and am inspired by more than 600 awesome Tobiians who constantly push the boundaries of interaction with technology. Over the past two decades, I have seen Tobii grow and introduce our technology into a myriad of use-cases that create value for millions of users — from enabling new scientific discoveries, to revolutionizing lives for users with disabilities, to new possibilities in gaming, virtual reality, medical diagnostics and so much more.