The nature of life with Google Glass is becoming clearer, and it’s not a pretty picture.
Definitive protocols have yet to be established, but it’s a good guess that the socially limited geeks who particularly like Google Glass are not going to be doing any enlightened social engineering anytime soon. Expect them to use the invasive tool pretty much as they like unless someone tells them not to, and even then, they may ignore the admonishment.
You might ask, why is this so different from where we are already? After all, smartphones have lots of sensors, and people can record, video, and snap whatever they want. There are even apps like Camera Camouflage, around since 2010, that allow the phonemaster to surreptitiously records stills and videos.
But the Google Glass problem is that people wearing them expect that they’ll be accepted into ordinary society the way people wearing Jawbone wireless headsets are. Yes, they’re not great fashion accessories, and people wearing them often appear to be talking to themselves, but we’re now used to seeing people in meetings with a headset hanging from their ear.
This very complacency is what will make Google Glass so treacherous because the headpiece doesn’t give any indication to the non-wearer of what it’s doing, and video and audio can essentially be recorded continuously. With a phone, at least the surveillance specialist has to take it out of his pocket. If you forget about that guy with the funny glasses over there and just do whatever you do normally, your awareness of being spied on has slipped below the level of consciousness.
We’ve gotten used to the idea that we’re sharing everything, and privacy isn’t what it used to be. In her most recent annual deck, Mary Meeker, general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Beyers, has a slide showing how the Internet has gone from being a place of anonymity to its exact opposite in 20 years. By 2013, wisdom of the famous 1993 New Yorker cartoon (On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog) has been turned on its head (… everybody knows you’re a dog).
But some people (e.g., Anthony Weiner) are still catching on to the fact that the Internet is no longer a free-for-all, and some very savvy folks are watching every smile you fake. Privacy is something we can no longer assume. As we saw in the Boston Marathon bombings, hundreds of video and imaging sensors were focusing on the perps, even if the documentarians didn’t know yet what they had in their nets. In the United Kingdom, people are recorded on video an average of 300 times a day.
The thing that makes Google Glass one notch weirder and the digital noose one notch tighter for all of us is the loss of the ability to opt in. If you’re in the field of fire, you’re in. There have already been a number of reports of parties where people were asked to remove their Google Glass piece or leave the premises. The Seattle bar 5 Point has banned Google Glass and warned on its Web page, “… ass-kickings will be encouraged for violators.”
At some point in the not-likely-too-distant future, someone will come into a party with this latest fashion accessory on, and someone will ask him (it will surely be a him) to remove it as a condition of entry, and the guest will ignore the entreaty and enter the private area anyway. Then someone already at the party, certainly also male and with a few drinks in him, will wrap a towel around his hand, step over, and simply smash his fist into the Google Glass, breaking them and causing permanent damage to the face just below.
I would not advise Google or its supporters to press forward with trying to make these things acceptable in polite society. If they persist anyway, they can expect a wave of hostility the likes of which they have perhaps only begun to imagine. The type of programmers who founded Google are not known for their social sensitivity. I would like them to “get it” before someone from a more primitive age expresses himself with his knuckles.
People can’t opt in to public surveillance, and we live in a more dangerous world now, where surveillance mostly works in our favor. But even in public places, Google Glass wearers with the ability to do tactical research on others, using facial recognition technology, Google Search, social media, and other tools, will create a creepoid ethos and generate a tremendous amount of hostility.
Silicon Valley may not see things this way, but the Valley is a bubble all to itself. In the wider world, people want the right to opt in to something as invasive as surveillance by Glass.