Last week, Seattle’s 5 Point Café, a funky bar in the city’s Belttown neighborhood, posted notice of its ban on Google Glass, adding: “ass kickings will be encouraged for violators.” The owner’s reason? “People want to go [to my bar] and be not known … and definitely don’t want to be secretly filmed or videotaped and immediately put on the Internet.”
If you haven’t already heard, Google Glass is the next big thing in tech, poised to transform our lifestyles. Think smartphones had an impact? They’ve got nothing on this new product, set for release next year. Essentially, Google Glass is a computer-device in the form of (you guessed it) glasses. While wearing the glasses, calendar reminders, directions, emails, iChat conversations — and basically anything you can currently do via your smartphone — display on your lens. Commands are easily executed via a quick verbal instruction. It’s all hands-free; you don’t even have to look down at a phone’s screen.
Provided you don’t mind wearing the Tron-looking headgear (it’s a toss-up whether it’s a dorky look or a cutting-edge, hipster status symbol) or the hefty $1,500 initial price tag, this all sounds pretty cool, right?
Not so fast. Like any good smartphone, the glasses are able to record what you are seeing (as well as what you are hearing), which is where the huge privacy dangers come in.
But hey, we already run the danger of someone recording us when we’re in public, don’t we? Anyone can whip out their iPhone or Android and record me or take a photo of me!
Sure. Here’s the big distinction, though: Say I’m at a restaurant and spot Kobe Bryant sitting next to me. Yes, I can take my iPhone and record a video or snap a photo. But it is dreadfully conspicuous (kind of obvious when I’m holding my iPhone at arm’s length and pointing it directly at Kobe). In fact, it’s why most individuals restrain themselves from capturing video or photos of many situations. We don’t want that person — or others — to know we are doing so. Who wants to be seen as rude, nosy, uncool, or disrespectful? Even if I was willing to try, before I could even snap my first photo or video, Kobe would notice my uncouth act, his companion (or mine) would notice, the restaurant’s manager would notice and ask me to refrain, etc.
But, alas, Google Glass does away with all this! It allows someone to surreptitiously and discretely record, without anyone being the wiser. Heck, I’m simply looking in your direction — nothing wrong with that! The next day, voila, I’ve shared it with friends and it’s even up on YouTube.
One need not go through the list of potential behavior that would be captured, stored, transmitted, and/or shared online. Spot your married co-worker kissing the secretary at the office Christmas party? Record the video! He won’t know you are — you’re just wearing your Google Glass and checking out his great dance moves! Having a conversation at a coffee shop with a friend, which you want someone else to listen in on? Just have them quietly sit in via your Google Glass’s iChat! Worth noting: It isn’t simply the fear of inappropriate behavior being secretly caught. What of those individuals who simply don’t appreciate having their picture or video taken (with reasons as simple as “I’m unphotogenic!”)? What about children playing in the park? The sky’s the limit for highly unnoticeable, undetectable, stealth-mode capturing of video, photos, and conversations.
Are there laws in some states restricting recordings to those where both parties consent? Only in some: Both federal law and a majority of states don’t require two-party consent. Besides, how would this be enforced when thousands of users are soon capturing and sharing Glass videos? Even if a user is forced to remove the recording’s online posting (from everywhere it’s already been posted? How?), the captured images or video would likely remain on the unit’s data. And how will you even know someone captured and uploaded a video or photo of you? Months or years later when it comes to your attention? Also, will Google monitor where you are and what you are observing … and then sell that data? The questions pertaining to Glass’s privacy implications — and virtually impossible enforcement of norms and laws — are endless.
The Orwellian-style fear of being watched has possibly arrived. Except it arrived in the form of a helpful tech tool — rather than government spies or cameras. Who needs Big Brother watching and capturing every moment when we can all do it to each other?
A Google spokesperson recently responded to the concerns, stating: “It is still very early days for Glass, and we expect that as with other new technologies, such as cell phones, behaviors and social norms will develop over time.”
In other words, we’ll all have to get used to the fact that everything and anything we say or do in public is potentially recorded and will likely be shared online in one form or other.
Unless workplaces and businesses hop on board with banning the devices, it seems that the only places where people’s privacy will be respected will be within the confines of their own homes.
So hunker down and feel free to develop social anxiety disorder, courtesy of Google. Privacy, it was nice knowin’ ya.
AJ Delgado is a graduate of Harvard Law School who writes about politics and pop culture. She may be reached via Twitter: @MissADelgado