Privacy through the Google Glass

Now that Google Glass is taking to the streets, it sparks questions. Do we, society, want to take this leap down the rabbit hole? What will become of our privacy and social norms?

It’s like the Black Mirror TV series. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a British drama series that shows the dark and controversial side of life and technology. They often portray where the world will be if current trends were to continue on the path they’re on.

There’s an episode in season one called, “The Entire History of You”, which strikes me as all too familiar. It’s about a time in the future (maybe even not so near off future) where people can be implanted with a chip that’s connected to their eyes and a hard drive in their brain. Every thing they see is recorded and can be played back at any time. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. In times like these, there are always those who refuse to get strung along but as everyone gets in on it, it becomes more and more difficult to take a stand.

For those who haven’t seen the show, I won’t go into more details about it. But in short, it shows the danger of such a technology and what the consequences are of always being able to see everything that ever happens to you. I’m sure you can see how it would create serious problems on a few levels.

As the Google Glass continues in its “exclusivity trial”, where those who have Glass can invite a friend to experience it with them, I keep thinking about this Black Mirror episode. I wonder who inspired who? It’s easy to get sucked into the currents of technology so it’s important to step back for a minute, away from the whooshing waters, and think about where we’re going. Do I want to be a part of it? What does it mean for my privacy? Will I be able to control it?

Image from Walkaboutstreet
Image from Flickr by BrianBSorensen

Since Google Glass was announced, a lot of angry voices have shouted out. People are scared at the idea of such technology being a part of society. Joe Barton, who co-founded the Congressional Privacy Caucus, has joined us in the fight by using “his jurisdiction to protect safety and privacy in the ever-expanding internet universe”. He turned to Google for answers about privacy but after poor responses from them he stated that,

Google Glass has the potential to change the way people communicate and interact. When new technology like this is introduced that could change societal norms, I believe it is important that people’s rights be protected and vital that privacy is built into the device.

Google’s biggest challenge is to create balance between those who want to use it, with those who are uncomfortable by Glass’s invasiveness. Google Glass will surely stumble across those who don’t want to be a part of it and then what happens to their privacy? You can decide not to use Glass but you can’t control who else uses it and what they capture. In a way we’ve seen this in Facebook. Some people don’t want photos of them posted by others but in the end they have little control over who posts them. All you can do is ask people around you to respect your privacy and hope they do.

Let’s talk a bit about Glass itself and how Google has considered privacy. Glass works by streaming every bit of data (videos, photos, etc) onto a cloud. This means that everything you do is uploaded automatically to the vast abyss of the interwebs. On the plus side, everything that uploads is private, until you choose otherwise. Sure, it doesn’t mean it’s all public but it does end up with Google. I guess the question is, what happens then? How can one protect their Glass data further? The answers here are still fuzzy but in the meantime there are a handful of FAQ’s Google wrote about the privacy of Glass.

Google points out that filming mode shuts off after 10 minutes if you don’t command it to continue, but even if you wanted to keep filming all day, the battery will only last 45 minutes in this mode. I wonder – is this for privacy reasons or simply because technology doesn’t let the battery last longer yet? A comforting fact is that the screen lights up when Glass is filming or taking a photo so the public can tell. Also, Google has assured us that facial recognition is not and will never become a part of the device. The Glasser (that’s someone who wears Glass) has full control over everything they do with it and Google says they aren’t able to tap into it remotely. They can only erase the data if it’s been stolen. That’s not to say Glass isn’t hackable, of course!

Image from Stop The Cyborgs
Image from Stop The Cyborgs

For those who aren’t so keen on having a Glasser record you, especially in secret, you should look up “Stop The Cyborgs“. It’s a campaign created to protect your privacy from Google Glass. They believe that:

We need to shape social norms by highlighting the problems with wearable technology and encouraging people to politely ask people to remove their devices in social or private contexts.

In fact, a bunch of businesses and shops have already began banning Google Glass on their property. Most of them are places where videos or photos can’t be taken no matter the device, like cinemas, gambling places, or museums. One bar in Seattle, The 5 Point, already had it banned in March to protect their customers. I think that a way for Glassers to respect the public’s privacy could be by asking permission to film people, like photographers are expected to do. One can choose to say yes, or one can choose to say no. That is our right. I know, I would appreciate that.

Google Glass undoubtedly adds a unique take on the way we interact with people socially online and offline. But we have to learn how to control the dangers, some that we just discussed, and safely integrate it (or not) into society – whether it be by restricting where it can be used or by creating an unspoken etiquette for Glassers to respect.

We’re so attached to technology that we see the world through its eyes, literally. Let’s not forget what’s important. Let’s protect our privacy and our future together.

2 Responses

  1. In regards to: “You can decide not to use Glass but you can’t control who else uses it and what they capture.” Glass is no different than cameras, cell phone cameras especially, in this regard. This is not some new frontier of privacy invasion but rather a continuing evolution of an existing technology. This fear of new forms of cameras has been around since cameras were first invented.

    The ability for me to limit what others can do with their devices, especially in regards to filming me, can end up as a violation of their freedoms of speech and press. Why would we want people to be able to opt-out of accountability for their actions in the name of privacy? If I attack somebody in the streets I shouldn’t be able to stop others from filming it to protect my privacy, nor should I be able to stop somebody from documenting their vacation just because I happen to be walking by.


    1. Thanks for your thoughts! You’re right, Glass is another step in the continuing evolution of technology & communication. And just like with a phone or camera, there’s an unspoken etiquette with privacy on how & what to capture, and we hope that Glassers will adopt it too. We need to integrate Glass into society in a way that it doesn’t degrade our privacy and damage the way we communicate.

      Having Glass on the streets may even affect the way we behave in public, much like the concept of the Panopticon prison, where the guard sits in the middle of a round room and has sight of every cell at all times. It was found that knowing they were always being watched improved their behavior. It could be a good thing but it will no doubt change the way we behave & interact.


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