Face and eye tracking is slowly turning into a reality that could make it into malls and stores in the near future. At Mobile World Congress this week, Vodafone is demonstrating a vision of that reality in the form of an Intel-powered webcam and TV. The demo works by tracking the faces of people who walk by a TV advert. The system can determine how many times a user has gazed at the ad, their sex, and how long they've been watching the ad.


Faces on the screen will turn faces blue for male and pink for female, switching the ad on screen to match the individual. In my own test it worked well, clocking up the number of times I looked at the ad in question, but it didn't always pick up hairless individuals or those with blonde hair. The system can detect and track when you're not staring at the ad in question, but Vodafone stressed that this is simply a proof of concept that they're fine tuning.

Intel recently unveiled its plans for an Internet TV launch later this year. The hardware will include a camera that can watch viewers while they view TV shows. As a platform, Intel may use this hardware to target TV viewers with ads in future, similar to Microsoft's Kinect NUads. Intel's camera could also recognize users to provide personalized show recommendations. (A spokesperson for Intel Media said that Intel's demo at MWC is intended for a retail display product and is unrelated to Intel Media's set-top box.)

Huge privacy implications

The privacy implications are huge, with the possibility that we could face a future where you walk by an ad and glance up and it responds with your name. That's not impossible to imagine with face and eye tracking becoming increasingly more accurate. Intel's webcam doesn't appear to be using Tobii's eye-tracking that the chip giant invested in recently, but when we got a demo of Tobii Rex last month it was clear it's nearly ready for the mainstream. Advertisers will have be careful here, though, as nobody wants a future where thousands of ads are greeting you while you walk by.