Google Glass. Yes, Google Glass. Heard of it? It’s the latest invasive technology being cooked up in Google’s labs… “augmented reality” eyewear that can record audio/video/pictures. Sounds cool – until you consider the creepy and disturbing ramifications.
The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them. I’ll give an easy example. Your one-on-one conversation with someone wearing Google Glass is likely to be annoying, because you’ll suspect that you don’t have their undivided attention. And you can’t comfortably ask them to take the glasses off (especially when, inevitably, the device is integrated into prescription lenses). Finally – here’s where the problems really start – you don’t know if they’re taking a video of you.
Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.
Now, I know the response: “I’m recorded by security cameras all day, it doesn’t bother me, what’s the difference?” Hear me out – I’m not done. What makes Glass so unique is that it’s a Google project. And Google has the capacity to combine Glass with other technologies it owns.
First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google’s own cloud of servers. Now add in facial recognition and the identity database that Google is building within Google Plus (with an emphasis on people’s accurate, real-world names): Google’s servers can process video files, at their leisure, to attempt identification on every person appearing in every video.
For Google, “privacy” means “what you’ve agreed to”, and that is slightly different from the privacy we’ve become used to over time. So how comfortable – or uneasy – should we feel about the possibility that what we’re doing in a public or semi-public place (or even somewhere private) might get slurped up and assimilated by Google?
You can guess what would happen the first time you put on Glass: there would be a huge scroll of legal boilerplate with “Agree” at the end. And, impatient and uncaring as ever, you would click on it with little regard for what you were getting yourself, and others, in to. Can a child properly consent to filming or being filmed? Is an adult, who happens to be visible in a camera’s peripheral vision in a bar, consenting? And who owns – and what happens to – that data?
Oliver Stokes, principal design innovator at PDD, which helps clients such as LG, Vodafone and Fujitsu design products, says Yee’s restaurant scenario is “concerning”. “The idea that you could inadvertently become part of somebody else’s data collection – that could be quite alarming. And Google has become the company which knows where you are and what you’re looking for. Now it’s going to be able to compute what it is you’re looking at.”
For now, Google Glass is just a prototype that had its day in the media spotlight and has quietly faded away. But Google has every intention of eventually bringing it to market. When they get it “right”.