Netflix Developing Biometric Technology for Effortless Streaming

November 16, 2018 • Shannon Flynn


Twice a year, Netflix hosts Hack Day — an event in which employees from across the company introduce new ideas they’ve come up with. Is one of them biometric technology?

Some of the ideas that emerge from Hack Days are innovative product improvements that might make it into Netflix’s website or app. Others are fun experiments, like “Jump to Shark” from the recent Fall 2018 event, which lets you jump to the parts of Sharknado that have sharks in them. Actually, maybe that one should become permanent!

One of this Hack Day’s most impressive innovations is Eye Nav, which, as its name suggests, allows you to navigate the Netflix app using your eye movements. Just look around the screen, and a yellow cursor will follow your gaze.

If you spend a long enough time looking at a specific area, Eye Nav will register that as a click. You can also stick out your tongue to dismiss a screen and go back to the previous one.

The Creation Process

How did developers Ben Hands, John Fox and Steve Henderson, who are credited with creating the biometric technology Eye Nav, do it? They used Apple’s ARKit, the same tech that powers Face ID and Animoji.

You might think this technology seems fun or rather dystopian. Whatever your point of view, it would make streaming your favorite shows a little bit easier.

Although perhaps it’s not a necessary change for most users, it would enable people to get just a bit more functionality out of your Netflix app.

For users who can’t navigate the Netflix app in other ways, this development could make a huge difference. Netflix notes that Eye Nav could have huge implications for accessibility. All someone would have to do is look around and make subtle facial expressions to navigate the app, opening it up to even more users.

Since Eye Nav uses technology that already exists within the iPhone, it seems likely that eye navigation could be used for other apps as well. It could even become a standard feature of smartphones and other devices in the future.

“We’re hopeful that this kind of technology will become a part of mainstream Accessibility APIs in the future,” the Eye Nav developers said on the Netflix blog.

The Potential of Eye Nav and Biometric Technology

Technology such as Eye Nav could have a wide range of interesting applications. An article on Inc.com suggested that drivers could someday use it to control digital maps built into or projected onto car windshields. This functionality would allow you to navigate without ever having to take your eyes off the road.

It could also enable even more advanced navigation within apps than Eye Nav demonstrates by integrating the ability to recognize more facial expressions as commands. Perhaps it will even become a typical way of navigating around screens at some point.

If eye tracking were to become a standard part of digital devices, there are many ways companies might use it that go beyond navigation. Marketers could potentially use it to evaluate which ads draw people’s attention the most.

Brands are already exploring how they can use cutting-edge emotion-detection technology to gauge customers’ reactions to movies and advertisements. This use is one that some users might object to.

Users who don’t want their devices tracking their eye movements and facial expressions should be given the option to opt out. For those who would leave the capability enabled so that they could use it for navigation, though, it could prove extremely beneficial.

Netflix isn’t expected to introduce this feature into its app any time soon. For now, it’s just an idea, but it’s certainly an intriguing one. Perhaps, we’ll be seeing more of this technology in the future.