Who's afraid of Google Glass?

2nd May 2013 | 14:30

Who's afraid of Google Glass?

Glass could be the most controversial gadget... ever!

Whenever someone comes up with a new technology, someone else finds a reason to panic. As Intel's Genevieve Bell told the Wall Street Journal, tech panic is a recurring theme in our culture. Putting electricity into houses? Predators will know from the lights whether women and children are home, and will attack them! Trains going faster than 50mph? Women's uteri would fly out of their bodies!

I can't wait to see the panic Google Glass causes.

The Daily Mail has already pondered whether Glass could cause cancer, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Glass panic promises to roll every tech scare story ever into one faintly stupid-looking device, and if Google's not careful that panic could really damage Glass - or at least make life pretty awkward for some of its users.

OK Glass, call my lawyer

There are two reasons to worry about Glass. One, its users have screens stuck to their face - a worry if, for example, they're driving a three-ton SUV at 70mph while having a Google Hangout, something we can't imagine lawmakers will be too keen on. And two, its users have cameras stuck to their faces too.

That one's the biggie, and it's a biggie because you can't tell if somebody's recording or not. Cellphone snapping and filming is pretty obvious. Glass isn't.

That changes things. Imagine you're in a playpark with your child and you see a funny-looking man wearing Glass, looking over. Would you feel comfortable? How about if the Glass owner is looking at you in the gym, or in a communal changing room, or is behind you on the escalator on a day you're wearing a short skirt?

Threats don't need to be real for bans to appear. Ten years ago, I spoke to a chain of gyms that had decided to ban cameraphones; they admitted that "there have not been any incidents in our clubs". Reports of cameraphone credit card fraud were based on "criminals could" rather than "criminals did". Unions demanded bans in schools because there was potential for misuse, and so on. If there's potential for misuse, there's potential for a ban.

Where you're not wanted

So what kinds of places might want to ban Glass because of potential misuse? The list could be awfully long. You wouldn't want people surreptitiously filming in gyms, or changing areas, or sports venues, or at children's dance competitions. You don't want people filming in cinemas or family court, gigs or galleries, government or local government buildings or anywhere that charges people to see or hear things. Shops might not appreciate the prospect of in-store filming, and both authority figures and angry drunks might not appreciate the prospect of being caught on camera.

There might be social concerns too. I'd feel uncomfortable sharing a rowdy night out with someone wearing Glass, and unless you knock around with a bunch of exhibitionists, Glass at a party could be a serious buzz killer. (In fact, it could make a party about as much fun as the unlamented Google Buzz.) Wearing it on a first date means you probably won't have a second. And you're not going to make many friends if you wear Glass to AA meetings or sexually transmitted disease clinics.

People's fears might not all be reasonable, and they might not last forever, but that doesn't mean they aren't real or that they won't be picked up on and blown out of proportion by the tabloids. Google might find that making Glass was the easy bit: getting people to feel comfortable with it will prove much harder.

Google Glass AR augmented reality privacy scaremongering
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