Talking tech since 2003

This is the first of a series of articles BestTechie is doing on Google Glass and privacy.

When a dive bar in Seattle became the first place to officially ban Google Glass from its premises, the idea of privacy and Google Glass took center stage in the media.  But for Dr. Katina Michael, who has been studying new technologies and their social implications since the late 1990’s, privacy and technology has been a theme in her research and lectures for years.

Michael, an associate professor at the University of Wollongong in Sydney, Australia, believes that Google Glass could change the way people view privacy, or what little we have left of it.  The social norms may begin to change because people may not know if they are being recorded by Glass or not (like asking someone to take off their Glass before entering your house).  Glass could be equipped with location-based social networking software and identity and publicize where people are located without their permission.  Crime could be happening simultaneously across the globe in a complex network using Glass to aid the criminal.

“You and I could be walking on different streets in different countries and all of a sudden I say ‘share with this person’ and you see what I’m seeing through your view glass –and I can see what you’re seeing from your view glass, which means we could be participating in remote crime,”  Michael said.

Complex crime gangs across the world operating sophisticated networks?  Sounds like a sci-fi movie.  But Michael isn’t a hater of the technology.  She believes there are many positive ways that this technology can be used, particularly in the learning environment with vocational training and reflection.

But she does take issue with the way in which Google is testing Glass.  Google, in essence, is using real people to test Glass’s beta version and then gathering feedback from them.  In Google’s ‘If I had a Glass project‘, 8,000 Google Glass prototypes were up for grabs at $1,500 for the most creative individuals who can think of various uses for the device.

Testing beta versions of new technologies on real people is not new.  It’s actually a trend that many  technology companies participate in (Google News, Google’s news aggregator, was in beta for three years.)

But, Michael, who says she personally has no issue with Google, also believes that Google should be investigating the privacy issues surrounding Glass further before releasing this type of product, especially the legislative issues. For example, in many countries, you can’t record conversations unless you’ve made the other person aware.  She feels this lack of education as to how people will use Glass is also an issue.

“They are very well aware of the audio issue, full audio and video is one thing and its legislative impact , but the other is how this data will be used?” Michael said.  “For example, if I take a video of you, do I own the video recording?  If you are the person who’s the center of the content?  So if I want to upload this to YouTube– what does it mean for biometrics, what does it mean for social media at large?”

Michael says that the idea of using technology like Glass to capture images and video in real time is a creating a society of Uberveillance.  She describes Uberveillance as embedded surveillance in a first person view where you don’t have the right to be alone; someone is intruding on your everyday life and sharing it with a number of people.

She argues that we could become walking creators of data, similar to the way drones operate now in the sky.   She also thinks we will become more stressed because there will be no private time.  And because we will be on camera all day, everyday, we will be playing to a world audience; an airbrushed generation starring in its own reality TV show.  She also says that people will be become more distracted, much like the way we are distracted by smartphones today.

“Next we’ll be doing real time Google Glass gaming, so that we’re playing games in a physical world or a physical space but our mind is virtual,” Michael said.  “And we may be neglecting what is physically around us- and at our own peril like crossing the street.”

If Glass takes off the way many people predict, Google could be facing a slew of privacy and legislative concerns.  But I am excited for what kind of bumper stickers may emerge.  “Don’t Text and Drive” could be replaced with something like “Wearing Glass and Driving Is CLEARLY Dangerous.”  Hehe

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