Last month, Google CEO Larry Page dismissed privacy concerns surrounding the new Google Glass device, saying, “People worry about all sorts of things that actually, when we use the product, it is not that big a concern.” His statements belie widespread worries about privacy that have been mounting in recent years, as phones with camera and video capabilities have grown increasingly ubiquitous.
Google’s latest product – glasses that act like smart phones, fully integrating these devices into daily life – takes the ever-present camera phone to a new level by allowing users to take pictures and video without anyone else knowing. This raises a question for a lot of people – does this form of “augmented reality” eye-wear infringe on others’ right to privacy?
A critique of Glass recently appeared in the New York Times, in which a reporter was unnerved by how Google Glass wearers at a Google shareholder meeting were interacting (or, more noticeably, not interacting) with other people present at the event, and how it was unsettling to have dozens of cameras out in a public restroom. He even met someone who had configured his Glass to take pictures when he winked; the man admitted to catching himself winking even without the glasses on when he wanted to capture a moment.
A number of campaigns interested in preserving privacy have emerged. One, called Stop the Cyborgs, hosts a blog dedicated to stopping Google Glass as well as producing a number of letter-writing campaigns, stickers, and t-shirts critiquing the eyewear. Members of Congress have drafted a letter to Google, demanding answers to how Google will address privacy concerns associated with Google Glass. Since users can take a picture or record video without visibly pressing a button, the ability to capture compromising photos (i.e. “creep shots”) is astronomically easier.
Google Glass hasn’t created the issue of invading others’ privacy, but it undeniably makes it easier and less noticeable. There are particular technological advances that allow the glasses to record much more, even, than photographs and videos. Given the device’s ability to recognize faces, track eye movements, and download and store all of this data, skeptics wonder about the sheer volume and level of intimacy of information that Google would have access to. Most don’t take much issue with security cameras recording data in public spaces, but when this same level of surveillance is taken into private residences, problems arise.
Researchers also suggest that having Google Glass ever-present could affect users’ memories. Specifically, since eye movements are related to cognitive processing, Glass content could interfere with one’s ability to recall. For example, if you’re trying to remember something from the past week, your eyes may move up and to the left. If there happens to be a sports video playing in that sector of the Google Glass, it will likely affect the ability to access that memory. Other cognitive processes the Glasses are likely to affect are centered around the ability to focus. The effects are similar to being constantly drawn to check one’s smartphone, but more pervasive – a constant state of distraction.
Others ask what the Google Glass is adding to the world of technology. It is, quite simply, a smartphone on your face – nothing fundamentally new has been added to the device. With the backlash and the issues of privacy that accompany the eye-wear, some are wondering if the benefits are worth the potential drawbacks for both users and society at large. Given that Google Glass has already provoked strong reactions, it will be interesting to see how society reacts to the device when it expands beyond its beta testing stage.
This is a guest post by Sara Collins, a writer for NerdWallet. She works to help readers stay informed about a range of issues, from controversial advances in technology to the tax benefits of 529 plans.