Does Google Glass signal 'the end of privacy as we know it?'

Mar 8, 2013

As the web-enabled glasses begin testing in public, experts fret over their impact on society

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THERE are fears that Google Glass, the high-tech, internet-enabled spectacles that shoot video, take pictures, and broadcast what the wearer is seeing to the world, may "end privacy as we know it".

The fact that the glasses are already being tested in public by volunteers - ahead of a possible launch later this year - means "you might already have been surreptitiously filmed and uploaded on to Google's servers", writes The Guardian's Charles Arthur.

As a result, people are already beginning to "fret" about the social implications of a device likely to be worn by millions of people within weeks of its release.

"The first, and most obvious issue, is the question of privacy," writes Arthur. "The second is: how will we behave in groups when the distraction of the internet is only an eye movement away?"

Cory Bernardi, an Australian senator, voiced similar concerns this week, warning that the advent of Google Glass could end privacy "as we know it".

Writing on his personal blog, he points out that a GG wearer in "your favourite restaurant" could capture your image and your conversation without you ever knowing. "The footage would be stored on the Google servers, your voice could be translated into text, and with the use of facial recognition, could be actually matched to your Google profile. You might even find it on a social media site somewhere for millions of others to see."

Google Australia declined to comment on Bernardi's blog post.

Politicians' fears about the social impact of new technology are seldom given much credence. But it's not just politicians who are worried about the way GG's ability to surreptitiously record still and moving images will transform society, possibly for the worse.

"Call me paranoid, but I think Google Glass is scary," writes PC World's Mark Sullivan. He worries about the "monstrous amounts of audio and video information" the devices could collect "every minute of every day" and how that information might be used by marketing companies and governments.

Joshua Topolsky, an American technology journalist, and one of the few people to try out a prototype version of GG, got a real sense of the device's stealthy surveillance abilities when he wore them to a branch of Starbucks. The film crew who accompanied him to the coffee shop were asked by staff to stop filming, but Topolsky kept the GG video recorder running "all the way through" his visit.

In an article for the tech website ZDNet, Ben Woods says GG may even wreak havoc on personal relationships. "Remember that drunken argument you had with your partner? Well, now Google Glass will mean you have no possibility of forgetting it. If it's entertaining enough, or you're well-known enough, the video of that argument could well be on YouTube before you get home."

But despite the challenges, GG will succeed and technology will "win out" over the potential privacy concerns, writes Woods. He says the use of smartphone features such as email, maps and cameras is "already far too engrained in our lives to stop that functionality being put in wearable tech".

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I hope that restaurants, fitness clubs etc will require these devices to be removed when on the premises.

I think that I'll demand the name and address of anyone filming me and make it clear that if I appear on youbook or facetube that I'll sue.