Then Their Eyes Locked — Not!

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2 min read
Facetime app Attention Correction feature

Eye contact is such an essential element in interpersonal communication that it’s considered rude in face-to-face conversation to avoid another person’s eyes. But a lowered gaze is standard in video chat, when the face on the screen is often several inches lower than the camera’s lens. Guess what? There’s an app for that!

What’s new: Apple added a feature to its FaceTime video-chat app that warps the image of your face, so people you chat with will think you’re looking them in the eye.

How it works: FaceTime Attention Correction works like a Snapchat filter, continually adjusting a map of the user’s face so the eyes appear to look at the camera. A MacRumors video highlights the warping effect: A drinking straw — the dark horizontal line in the clip above — curves slightly as it passes over the commentator’s eyes. The feature reportedly works only on Apple’s newest phones, the iPhone XS and XS Max. It can be switched off in the settings.

Behind the news: Mike Rundle, a product designer at Intuit, noticed the gaze-fixing feature and pointed it out in a tweet. In fact, he had predicted the feature in a 2017 blog on the future of the iPhone. He analyzed Apple’s recent acquisitions and told readers to look out for “advanced image-manipulation algorithms that make sure FaceTime calls always show your eyes looking at the other person.”

Why it matters: Anything that might improve interpersonal communication is worth exploring. Yet our perception of reality is increasingly subject to automated tampering. For instance, Zoom's videoconferencing system offers a "touch up my appearance" switch that subtly smoothes facial wrinkles. Apple added gaze correction without notice, but it did provide a way to turn it off. Companies with a lower standard of accountability to users could seed communication tools with features that mediate communications without your knowledge or control.

Takeaway: Will this new feature make video chat more intimate? Or will it lead to less-present telepresence as people who seem fully engaged are actually scanning Reddit? While we mull the answer, we’ll be on the lookout for software that flags manipulated facial expressions during video chats.


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