Google Glass and the Real Issue of Perceived Privacy

Josh’s recent post on Google Glass has got me thinking. While I’m happy to confess that I find Project Glass absolutely fascinating and I can't wait to try them/it out––by the way, is Glass is plural, as in 'a pair of glasses', or singular as in 'a Nexus'?––the piece only touched upon how Google, or the Google Glass user, is going to deal with the very real issue of privacy. Or more to the point, the perception of privacy.

Taking a photo or shooting a video on a mobile device and sharing it via a social network is nothing new. Yet there is something inherently different about raising your phone to shoot in a public place, and being able to shoot completely candidly using Google Glass––regardless of the record light in the prism. The issue is not whether Glass users WILL be shooting surreptitiously; the issue is that they CAN. And that’s potentially a real problem; wearing Google Glass could be banned from many public and government places.

For example, in the (excellent) ‘How it Feels’ video on the Google Glass web site, there’s a shot of a Glass wearer running through the airport checking the gate information for their flight. Even though they’re not recording a video while they run, they could be. For that reason, I think that it’s highly likely that wearing Glass could be prohibited in airports, planes, and on most forms of public transport in general. Yes, you can currently record a video on your iPhone or Nexus in an airport, but it is very obvious that you’re doing it and so you’re far more likely to be caught and stopped.

The same principle applies to private public places: bars, restaurants, cinemas––even some parks. Imagine walking into a bar or restaurant holding your phone out in front of you as you blatantly record your journey to your seat or table, surveying the crowd as you go. There’s no denying that it would make people extremely uncomfortable, and more than a few of them a little hostile. Wearing Glass may be viewed in exactly the same way, and I foresee the potential for ‘No Glass’ notices in many of these places.

To be clear, I am not in any way against shooting reportage pictures and video in public. I am a massive fan of Instagram, Vine, Flickr, etc and I think that picture sharing is arguably the best form of social networking there is. But the taking of pictures in public places with a smartphone (or a ‘camera’ if you’re really old fashioned’) requires a modicum of common sense to avoid confrontation or misunderstandings.

And it is not that Google Glass users will have any less common sense or sense of restraint. As Josh writes, there’ll be a real need to establish a "Glass etiquette." But my concern is not with the Glass users - it is with non Glass users. In many circumstances, the only way to convince authorities or the general public that you’re NOT recording anything with your Google Glass device will be to take it/them off. And then you can’t use it for anything else. You’ll be back to using your phone.

Project Glass is a very real example of ‘thinking different’ (ironic I know) and I hope that it is a monumental success. I just hope that it’s users (and I very much hope to be one of them) aren’t relegated to just using it in private, or in Glass ‘safe’ areas.