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Will Google Glass make privacy a thing of the past?

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by James Plafke, 27 Mar 2013Blog
Will Google Glass make privacy a thing of the past?

Aside from whether or not Google Glass will actually have enough features to catch on after the cool factor of computer glasses wears off, the biggest concern facing the wearable computer is how it will affect privacy. One advocacy group, Stop the Cyborgs, warns that Google Glass will make privacy impossible.

Amidst the buzz surrounding Google Glass, a couple of negative aspects of the wearable computer weren’t exactly disregarded, but were definitely flying low under the radar. We discussed one of the negative aspects before – that we haven’t seen the unit show off any kind of revolutionary functionality yet. Its major selling point seems to be that it can record video without you having to press a button with your finger, and without having to position the camera with your hand. This leads to the other negative aspect of Glass that is picking up steam lately: Creep shots.

Right now, creep shots exist all over the Internet. You have probably taken some yourself without actually realising it (or classifying it as such). That drunk guy sleeping on the train wearing funny pants that you put up on Instagram? That was technically a creep shot, and you invaded that guy’s privacy. People of Walmart and Look at this F*cking Hipster – sites that traded in specialised, themed creep shots – became so popular that they got book deals.

Advocacy group Stop the Cyborgs warns that Google Glass will make privacy impossible because of the ease with which users can snap photos and record video. However, it’s no different to the ease with which we snap photos or record videos with our phones.

In order to snap a secret picture with a phone, you have to hold the phone up and aim it at your target. This is usually noticeable if the target is looking directly at you. With Glass, you just point your head in your target’s direction, which is less noticeable than waving a phone around in the air.

However, with Glass (so far, at least), you have to provide an audible command. So, while the cute girl standing on the other side of the train probably won’t hear you tell your glasses to take a picture, everyone else around you will. Most likely, she won’t see you stealthily position your phone in her direction. Even if she does, you’re technically just holding your phone’s screen in front of your face, possibly doing one of a million tasks that require you to hold your phone up in the first place.

In an anonymous email to the BBC from a Stop the Cyborgs member, it is disclosed that the group’s goal isn’t to completely ban Glass, but to set some kind of universally accepted physical boundaries with technology similar to Glass. Over in the US, one West Virginia state legislator recently introduced a bill that would ban not just Google Glass, but all head-mounted devices, while driving. So, Stop the Cyborgs isn’t the only group looking to prevent some of the dangers of wearable computing before it becomes widespread.

It is, for lack of a better word, weird that Google Glass is becoming such a hot-button topic before even a beta launch of the product, especially when the product basically just puts a tiny smartphone screen on your head. Remember, as far as people outside of Google are aware, Glass doesn’t introduce any new functionality we’ve never seen before in tech. It simply takes some things we can do with our smartphones, and puts those things over our eyes.

However, it’s not a bad thing that the impending launch of Glass is getting society to think about the ways upcoming technology could disrupt everyday life. The world of law is still reeling from the effects of piracy and DRM, and those concepts have been around for quite some time now. Getting the ball rolling now on how society should handle wearable computing when it becomes prevalent is a good way to prepare for unforeseen issues.

Ultimately, though, Google Glass won’t make privacy impossible like Stop the Cyborgs suggests. Unless it receives some new features of which we’re currently unaware, it won’t even change how privacy is currently handled. After all, Glass is essentially a smartphone on your face, and it’s not exactly difficult to sneak pictures or coyly look up information with our smartphones as it is.

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