April 1, 2013
Google Glass opens up new debate on privacy in public
Get ready for the ever-shifting line between public and private to move again. The expansion of Google Glass—the Internet-connected, video-capable glasses—into a public trial has re-inflamed a debate about privacy in public. With the possibility of millions of people wearing a device that can record with a simple command, privacy advocates, government officials, academics and even some business owners are sounding alarms.
“Google Glass is possibly the most significant technological threat to ‘privacy in public’ I’ve seen,” Woodrow Hartzog, an affiliate scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, told Ars Technica. The 5 Point bar in Seattle recently declared a ban on Google Glass (“and ass kickings will be encouraged for violators”)—a joke/PR stunt for the most part, but it’s plausible that serious bans will become commonplace. Meanwhile, an anti-Google Glass group calling itself Stop the Cyborgs has sprung up in London, and in Australia, Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has said the technology “could mean the end of privacy as we know it.” Bernardi posits a scenario where a quiet conversation is surreptitiously recorded and converted into text and the person’s face matched to his Google profile, then the exchange posted on social media. (Bernardi’s arguments might be stronger if he hadn’t taken extreme views on other issues.)
On the other side, many argue we’re already under heavy public surveillance (even 5 Point uses security cameras) and give up our privacy rights regularly through various social outlets. Yet, “there’s something about being caught on video, not by some impersonal machine but by another human being, that sticks in people’s craws and makes them go irrationally berserk,” writes Jon Evans at TechCrunch—before noting (rationally) that Google Glass’ presence could reduce crime and abuse of power by government authorities. Meanwhile, other life-logging technologies such as Memoto, a wearable, always-on video camera, are coming on the market as well. Watch for the debate to get much louder before society hashes out how to accommodate these devices.
Image credit: Google