October 15, 2020

The AI watching you browse the internet

Realeyes is part of a growing world of 'Emotion AI' — but can machines really measure our emotions?

Freya Pratty

3 min read

Credit: Realeyes

Realeyes is an Estonian-founded startup that measures people's attention and emotional response to online content. Or to put it another way, it watches you watch videos online to assess how much you like them. 

The startup announced Thursday it has won new funds from Japanese VC NordicNinja to help them roll out their product globally. The company already counts Coca-Cola and Mars as its clients and has a team of around 80.

Realeyes is part of an ever-growing world of ‘Emotion AI,’ which has accelerated rapidly in recent years, with advertisers in particular interested in getting better data about how customers react to their products.


For critics, it’s another weapon in the arsenal of “surveillance capitalism,” allowing companies not only to know where you are, what you are interested in, who you know and what you buy but also how you are feeling

The state that can read the emotions of its citizens is also a common trope of dystopian dramas, from Big Brother in Orwell's 1984 to the 2002 film Equilibrium with Christian Bale. Some worry this tech moves the world in this direction.

More immediately, ‘Emotion AI’ could lead to a world in which targeted ads could be chosen based not only on your gender, age, location and estimated income bracket but also on your mood at that moment.

Others criticise Emotion AI for different reasons, saying that the issue is not that the technology is too powerful for society to handle but that it doesn't really work very well.

A report last year by the Association for Psychological Science warned that measuring facial movements provides an inexact measure of a person’s internal emotions. 

But while critics abound, the technology is marching on.

In 2016, Apple bought startup Emotient, which measures emotions through video analysis, and last year Amazon announced it had improved its voice assistant Alexa by using AI to detect emotion in people’s voices. 

‘Emotion AI’ is part of a wider theme of the increase in facial recognition technology more generally, with the market ballooning from $2.8bn in 2015 to somewhere between $6.2bn to $22bn this year.

Companies such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon have made huge inroads into this area in the past 5 years.

Realeyes was founded in 2007 and before the latest funding from NordicNinja had raised €34m (according to Dealroom). 

It said on Thursday the new investment - the full amount was undisclosed -  would help the company to expand globally.


“We make investments in companies that we can help grow through our expertise, our relationships, and understanding, especially with the Asian technology markets,” said  Tomosaku Sohara, managing partner of the VC.  

Mihkel Jäätma, chief executive of Realeyes, said: “We’re thrilled to welcome NordicNinja aboard to accelerate our new product development and meet global demand for solutions that enable greater human connection.”

He added that the company’s mission was to “create one trillion more smiles globally every year.”  

Freya Pratty

Freya Pratty is a senior reporter at Sifted. She covers climate tech, writes our weekly Climate Tech newsletter and works on investigations. Follow her on X and LinkedIn