Google Glass: on privacy and public accountability


Beta testers of Google’s Glass technology have been busy both exploring the capabilities of the device, and uncovering its immediate problems. Though some find the applications to be fairly limited, and the interface far from intuitive, Glass is full of potential for its users, for the tech industry, and for app developers.

However, some of the biggest concerns regarding Glass, voiced by tech analysts and beta testers alike, relate directly to the invasion of privacy. After all, Glass allows the wearer to discreetly record video or take photographs of what their eyes are seeing, without making it apparent to those in the surrounding environment.


Though the core gestures that are used to control the device are somewhat detectable to those around (e.g. voice command, tapping and swiping the side panel, nodding or tilting your head), this doesn’t seem to ease a bystander’s sense that they aren’t being recorded at any moment. And if you’re not already weary, freelance developers are trying to create innovative ways to make interface with Glass ever more effortless and inconspicuous; such as the photography cue being your mere blinking when the app is activated. In public spaces, this may create a substantial social discomfort for both wearers and onlookers. To some, Glass is threatening, to others benign. For years we have been utilizing mobile phones which allow the user to turn off signaling lights or sounds that indicate recording is taking place. But the privacy issues surrounding Glass have been serious enough to warrant attention from cautious U.S. members of Congress. Several representatives have come together to request that Google ‘establish what controls will be put in place to protect consumer privacy’.

On the other hand, the ability of Glass to record events immediately and covertly creates a tremendous opportunity for public accountability, especially as the technology matures. Journalists wearing them would be able to quietly document events as they unfold, and police or witnesses could utilize the features in the event of a crime. In cases such as these, Glass may be vital in sharing information for social good and public accountability.

What consumers end up feeling comfortable with will ultimately decide the fate of Glass. We must wait and see whether or not Google can rise to the complicated moral challenges of our modern society.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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