Did eye just do that? Microsoft brings gaze tracking to Windows 10

Beta tech on Insider builds now

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Goodbye, keyboard. Goodbye, mouse. To use Windows, soon all you'll need is your vision.

In addition to native eye-tracking support, Windows 10 will eventually offer users the option to control the mouse, keyboard and text-to-speech with only their eyes and a camera, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced last week at Redmond's annual "One Week" hackathon.

The tech, called Eye Control, will help lesser-abled individuals – such as those affected by motor neuron diseases – use computers without a mouse and keyboard.

Several companies already use basic eye tracking in their products. For example, Samsung's Galaxy S7 dims the screen when you look away, and Apple acquired the German eye-tracking company SensoMotoric instruments earlier this year – though no one's sure what for yet.

With cameras from Swedish firm Tobii, Windows 10 users can already log in or open applications with a glance.

Microsoft says the idea for Eye Control came from the 2014 One Week event's winning project, "The Eye Gaze Wheelchair", which allowed a participant with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to drive a wheelchair by looking at controls on a Surface device. The project inspired Microsoft to form a research group to study eye tracking – and the Windows team jumped on to support it on the OS.

Now Eye Control is available as a beta through Windows Insider Preview version 10.0.16251 or higher. A Tobii spokesperson said: "Eye Control for Windows is released by Microsoft, so the decision to include the functionality in Windows 10 Fall Creators update rests with them."

It only works with select cameras like the Tobii 4C (€159). According to Tobii, Eye Control lets users type by focusing on a word's first letter, glancing at others and focusing again on the last letter. They can move the mouse by looking at the area of the screen where they want the cursor.

Haiyue Yuan, a computer scientist at University of Surrey specialising in human computer interaction and usable security, is using eye-tracking data to help study how people use authentication systems, and warned that most participants have reported eye fatigue, suggesting that able-bodied users wouldn't reap the same benefits using Eye Control.

A spokesperson said: "Tobii's systems are tested for eye safety [(IEC/EN 62471), and we have had eye tracking systems deployed for over 10 years with users that uses eye tracking to communicate. We do not have reports of user fatigue caused by the eye tracker itself."

Yuan added that, like with a physical keyboard or mouse, there would be the risk of hacking if you use eye tracking for authentication or access control. Any privacy concerns would revolve around whether it was possible to identify individuals with the eye-tracking data, and whether it was stored.

A Tobii representative responded: "Since Tobii's technology is part of the Windows Hello system, Microsoft has the responsibility to ensure that the total system cannot be hacked. We do also perform security reviews of our software and system architecture to avoid security vulnerabilities."

Several studies have been able to determine personally identifiable information from eye-tracking data. For example, this 2012 study published in Pattern Recognition Letters was able to occasionally figure out pupil diameter and gaze velocity, while this 2014 study also found that gaze could be used for individual identification. Yuan said eye-tracking data is not as accurate as other forms of biometrics, so there's no consensus in the research community about whether it would be personally identifiable info (and hence covered under data protection laws).

According to the Tobii Eye Tracking Core Software EULA: "We strive to continuously enhance the user experience by collecting anonymous usage data and use that as basis for improvements. If you participate, the data will be transmitted securely, recorded and stored anonymously to be identifiable only by random tokens. We might collect anonymous usage data such as (i) Software usage (e.g., feature usage) (ii) data on interactions with third party applications (e.g., gaze interaction on the desktop), and (iii) general system-related information (e.g., CPU, memory)."

A Tobii spokesperson told The Register: "Tobii does not store eye-tracking data offline or in the cloud for consumers. In our developer EULA we specifically do not permit storage of data offline or sending it to another computer for privacy concerns."

The Windows Insider Program Agreement as of August 2 notes the program's services can "automatically collect and transmit data to Microsoft and its partners regarding activities on your devices, including personal information".

Redmond details how it stores Windows Hello information on devices in an encrypted form here.

The Information Commissioner's Office has not responded for a request for comment about whether eye-tracking data would be considered a "biometric" under UK data protection laws or the upcoming GDPR legislation. Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment. ®


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