google glass: a window to life or an obtrusive camera
The release of Google Glass marked a big moment for the tech industry where we no longer hold our technology, but wear it. This concept has been further pushed with the release of the Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. The possibilities for the future use of these technologies are endless and bring to mind visuals similar to science fiction greats. However, they are getting mixed reviews. Tech enthusiasts are embracing it with open arms, but it is looked at with fear from those reluctant to change and apprehensive about the security implications.
I will never forget the first time I came face-to-face with Google Glass and the reaction it received at a Seattle restaurant. This new piece of technology frightened a waitress so much that with hands shaking she asked the man wearing Glass to remove them. When questioned for the reasoning behind her fear, she did not offer much of an explanation besides that it made her uncomfortable.
This experience intrigued me. I wondered if this would be a common reaction from the general public. Working for a technology company, the views I am surrounded by are pro-technology and may not represent the larger public. To find out if the waitress’ feelings were prevalent, I set up a time to talk with Jacob Eberhart, VP of Communications for Canary LLC. Jacob has been sporting Glass since May and I wanted to ask him more about his experiences.
He was excited to talk about this issue, but he informed me he had not experienced many issues of others being frightened by Glass. He had also only been asked to remove the Glass twice. Once in a legal meeting and the other by a TSA officer. Both times he was within his rights to wear the Glass and both concerns were about recording.
The Fear of Recording
The thought of the general public running around with cameras on their face and being able to record everything they see may be a scary thought, but it’s not new. People have been able to record video and take pictures anywhere for a long time on their mobile phone or through tiny spy cameras.
However, every new buzzworthy device will reignite these discussions of privacy. In fact, Google has been confronted with these fears by congress. Google glass advocates have stated over again that they are within their rights and that it is obvious when the device is recording. With minimal exposure to Glass, this claim seemed strange to me. Can it really be that obvious? With my interest spiked, I asked Jacob if he felt it was obvious. He responded with a laugh. Despite having to give the voice command “Okay Glass Take a Picture”, a red light will appear showing that it is on.
With Glass, the potential for more pictures and videos to be recorded may increase, but all we can do is hope people will have the common decency about what to record. As more Glass hits the streets people will begin to recognize when they are on camera and may put up a guard or adjust their behavior because of it.
Fear of Facial Recognition
Along with the fear of recording, the public's fear over Glass has been about facial recognition software. This technology first created buzz in 2011 when Facebook turned on its facial recognition software by default both stunning and startling users. Google is aware of this and does not have facial recognition incorporated in Glass.
However, hacker Stephen Balban already created an alternative operating system that runs facial recognition on Glass. When Google found out about this they made a claim that they will not be allowing any facial recognition apps in Google Glass until “proper protections” are set in place and changed its terms of service to ban them.
Jacob agrees with Google saying, “People need to be able to trust the source. It should come from a reputable company who has a lot to lose, not an anonymity. Google knows facial recognition is scary and needs to do it right. That time is not now, which is why they have not released it and have established strict rules against this. I won’t be shocked though if it creates a big stir once it is released.”
Google is in a tough spot. They have developers eager to expand the uses of Glass and the general public and politicians who fear for privacy. However, if Glass can incorporate facial recognition, imagine the possibilities. Doctors can pull up a patients record by looking at them and learn what steps they need to take next. You can receive a notice to help you remember the name of acquaintances and how you know them.
Fear of Glass Hacking
The greatest fear of all may be Glass being hacked and an outside source gaining access without your permission. Whether it is a random hacker or government authorities, this may be one of the most unsettling thoughts about Glass.
The government has already been able to remotely turn on Onstar systems. So who can say if in the future they will be able to remotely turn on Glass’ video recording capabilities without the user’s knowledge or gain access to everything they see and hear. When discussing this with Jacob he said, “It is a frightening reality, but can be used for good. With that same technology if Glass is stolen it can be used to help reclaim stolen property.”
It is Personal
The issue of hacking brings up another controversy surrounding Glass which is how personal the device is. It sees everything you can and watches every eye movement you make. However, as reported by The Huffington Post, this is the opportunity Google’s chief internet evangelist Vin Cerf is working towards. According to Vin, their goal is:
“to experiment with what happens when you allow a computer to become part of your sensory environment. It sees and hears what you see and hear and it can apply its power and the power of the internet to make use of information in context.”
When I asked Jacob what he felt about this device being so personal, he said it is what makes Glass so special. Because Glass is so personal, he has been able to record touching personal moments that he never would have had otherwise -- including this sparkler farewell at his wedding (featured below) and a video he took of his then girlfriend at the airport after weeks of not seeing each other.
Glass has numerous benefits. It is able to serve up historical information about nearby places and restaurant recommendations. It will help to improve safety and procedures in the oil industry, the main reason Jacob wanted access to Glass. Through Glass, Jacob is exploring better ways to communicate with their team in the field. The incorporation of RFID tagging also will greatly benefit the industry as it can help field staff find the right equipment and fittings before putting them on the truck for transport.
While Google Glass may have caused a bit of stir, this is a common reaction to change. We must understand that change is often, if not always, approached with apprehension and fear at first. Google has a big job ahead of them to help the public feel comfortable with this technology and start focusing on the potential benefits. This all starts with knowledge, but in the end this debate is not about the technology it is about the virtue of people. Do we stop innovation because of the fear that bad people will use it for evil? Or do we move forward allowing people access to technology that can change the world?