Satish Misra MD contributed to this article

In a recently released patent, Apple has outlined a new strategy to make advertising increasingly personalized in a rather unusual way.

Content advertisers have always known that the secret to selling is to know your audience. Apple has taken this strategy a step further by proposing a system to track a consumer’s demographics, behavior, and (most surprisingly) their mood.

While the intent is obviously advertising, one has to wonder whether this type of technology – if accurate – could be used for something more than selling you a pair of shoes.

The system behind this new advertising service aims to maximize consumer responsiveness to a product by tracking location, time of day, gender, age, and shopping behaviors.

In order to assess mood, however, it uses a complicated mix of physiological indicators and past behaviors. The device proposed in the patent can measure blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and vocal tone to understand mood. One proposed model even uses face recognition to read the user’s expression. This data is combined with trends in behavior, such as which social media websites or types of music the user frequents, to get a comprehensive insight into overall mood.

The system begins by monitoring all of these metrics to get a baseline mood for each individual user. Then, according to the patent, “the user’s current mood can…be inferred by applying one or more mood rules to compare current mood-associated data to at least one baseline mood profile for the user” (USPTO)

On the other hand, potential advertisers must specify a product’s target audience and prime timing in order to gain full benefits from a service like this. For example, ads presented through this service may be first classified as “gender, male; age, 19-24; location, Northern California or New York City; mood, happy” so as to maximize their impact (USPTO).

Clearly, Apple is innovating ways to measure the seemingly intangible characteristics of their consumers in the future. Presently, though, the company seems to understand the public weariness surrounding big data. The patent was originally filed in 2012 and there are no immediate plans for this technology to be implemented. Meanwhile, companies like Microsoft have been working on their own version of this technology (called the Moodscope) so as to better interface with entertainment and social media sites.

If this type of technology proves to be accurate enough that it can predict how someone will respond to an ad, one can’t help but wonder what else it could predict. Perhaps a major deviation in your “ad responsiveness” could be a sign of worsening mood in a patient with major depression or increased volume retention making a heart failure patient feel sluggish.

Granted, that goes an extra step than what Apple or Microsoft care about – the mood rather than the cause of the mood. And in general, going that extra step is going to plagued by a lot of noise from the many things that affect mood. But perhaps in the right patient population, this tool could find some use in improving health too.

Sources: USPTO #20140025620, CNET, Apple Insider, Phys.org