The Stigma Surrounding Google Glass - We're Watching You Week


By Dane Feldman

Photo courtesy of Ars Electronica.

Google, with a practically ubiquitous search engine and a penchant for innovation, has been recognized as both a pioneer and one of the major faces of technological development since its launch in 1998. In lieu of their foresight into the future, the company is now set to release the next big thing in technology: Google Glass, a pair of $1,500 glasses complete with flash memory, video recording, camera, and Bluetooth capabilities.

Since the announcement of the product’s specs and API on April 4, 2012, the company has combated an outstanding amount of negative feedback, regarding both personal privacy issues and practical use. Because Glass allows for hands-free video recording as well as photographing, the likelihood that others will be aware of whether or not they are being recorded is slim at best. Some are also skeptical about how safe some of the marketed functions of the Glass really are.

Part of this backlash includes the quarter of respondents to a survey by Rackspace and the University of London’s Goldsmiths’ College who said they had reservations about the technology’s ability to share their information with unknown third parties. Conversely, 16 percent of respondents said they worried about infringing on the privacy of others through the device. Google responded to these concerns by clarifying that any and all applications that might use facial recognition will not be allowed.

Still, many worry like the owners of The 5 Point Cafe, a bar in Seattle, who already banned the use of Glass inside their establishment, citing unwanted photographs and recordings as their main concern.

Strip club owners have also expressed reservations regarding Glass’ capabilities. Though the device hasn’t even been officially released yet, many clubs already banned the gadget from their premises. Meanwhile, Google has responded to this (and the porn industry as a whole) as well, stating that using Glass for any type of sexually explicit material is off limits.

Casino owners have their own reasons for feeling apprehensive about Google Glass, as the device could be stealthily used as a way to count cards and review techniques. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has already begun the process to prohibit Glass use in 12 Atlantic City casinos. To counter this concern on top of all the others, Google has banned the development of gambling applications for Glass.

In fact, Google also bars people from more than just basic surveillance use of Glass. Those who purchase Google Glass are prohibited from sharing the device and failure to comply could lead to the company remotely deactivating Glass. R-rated language is also forbidden, and any attempts to use such language results in “family friendly alternative[s]”.

It is important to note that Google is marketing Glass as a relatively family friendly product, and welcomes users to experience a “world through Glass.” The promotional video displays hands-free video recordings of unique first person perspectives: skydiving, dancing on a stage, the use Google Maps while behind the wheel of a car, Google Hangouts with Grandma on her birthday or while flying a plane, mothers capturing moments with their toddlers,  and hands-free messaging while riding in a hot air balloon. As well made and inspirational as the promotional video is, many consumers are still hesitant to purchase Glass, as nearly a third of the Rackspace survey respondents said they “wouldn’t know what to use it for.”

Glass’ most arguably useful feature is the ability to have Google Maps hands-free and directly in our line of vision. However, many have also expressed concerns about drivers’ ability to operate vehicles while also operating Glass. Politicians in some states claim it is dangerous to use Glass at all while driving, and bills have been proposed in both Delaware and West Virginia to make such use unlawful.

As Forbes’ Steven Rosenbaum puts it, it appears that Google Glass is leading the technology pack (as well as society) towards a “world of total transparency.” As consumers, we should probably just accept that Google Glass is coming by early 2014 and its competition will soon follow. Google CEO Larry Page advises us “not to create fear and concern about technological change until it’s out there”. He also says that consumers often worry about issues that turn out not to exist once products officially launch.

In any case, technological change is ever-present. Rosenbaum claims that “wearable computing” has officially arrived with Glass, but are glasses we can use as computers all that far removed from the smartphones that are already in our pockets?