Google Glass: the ultimate creepy stalker toy?

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Privacy

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass. Image from FlickrYesterday was a challenging day for the double X-chromosomed - or, really, for anybody who doesn't want to be spied on.

First, there was this Ars Technica piece about ratters: hackers who use remote administration tools (RATs) to gain access to (primarily) women's webcams, files and PC microphones to steal files and surreptitiously spy on victims, whom they refer to as "girl slaves."

Then there was this: ReadWrite's roundup of five creepy things you'll be able to do with Google Glass.

If you're not yet familiar with Google's internet-enabled head gear, ITTechWiz has a rundown of what these things will do.

Google told The Verge that it's aiming to release Glass by the end of 2013.

While we wait, there's time to ponder the privacy invasions Google's glasses portends.

For one, it will be a boon to those who don't have the technical acumen to actually hack into somebody's computer and take it over like the ratter crowd.

As ReadWrite pointed out, Google's device removes the social awkwardness, and obviousness, of pointing a camera or smartphone at somebody to snap their photo or grab some video of them.

Taking the phone or camera out of the equation means that stalker types can just look and snap, or leer and record, as the case may be.

Of course, it's not only attractive women who'll be potentially targeted by creeps. It's could be children, or anybody, for that matter.

Google GlassGoogle hasn't included facial recognition for their first iteration of Glass. I tried to find thoughts from them on whether it would be included in future versions, but I came up short. Enlighten me, please, if you've seen such.

Given the social networking giants' attraction to this technology up to this point, it's hard to imagine Google will refrain from including it in the long term.

In the meantime, the Glass-clad will have the option of quietly muttering voice commands to their Android-enabled face gear so as to do a bit of Google stalking on whomever they just met.

The invasion of privacy this promises to usher in is reminiscent of "Girls Around Me," the stalking app that tied in to Foursquare to enable users to access women's specific location, photos, Facebook details including birthdays or relationship status or schools attended, and whatever else Facebook and Foursquare's check-in functions had broadcast about its targets.

Thankfully, at least one business has already banned Google Glass.

The 5 Point Cafe in Seattle on Monday posted this ban:

If you’re one of the few who are planning on going out and spending your savings on Google Glasses – what will for sure be a new fad for the fanny-pack wearing never removing your bluetooth headset wearing crowd – plan on removing them before you enter The 5 Point. The 5 Point is officially a No Google Glass zone.

No Google GlassNicely done, 5 Point. Thank you for protecting your patrons' privacy, particularly in your gadget-savvy city.

ZDNet's James Kendrick predicts that when public awareness of Google Glass reaches a critical mass, and when people understand that the devices can record photos, video and audio of the wearer's surroundings, we'll see more such bans.

Don't be surprised if within weeks of the Google Glasses general release we start seeing bans of it cropping up all over the place.

I hope he's right.

I'd suggest that as we await the availability of what admittedly sounds like insanely fun gadgetry, outside of the scary privacy bits, you practice the same caution with regards to your privacy around Google Glass as I recommended with Girls Around Me.

To wit: Check your applications. Stay safe. Check what they're beaming out about you. Check your children's applications. Be aware of the information your kids' apps beam out about them.

Better safe than Google-stalked.


Image credit: Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass image by Thomas Hawk, Flickr.

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39 Responses to Google Glass: the ultimate creepy stalker toy?

  1. me holdstock · 592 days ago

    so because it CAN be used for doing bad things, it is bad?

    like knives and cars and mirrors and ropes and airplanes and programming skills and ... well, anything we can think of ...

    • Lisa Vaas · 592 days ago

      Nah, nah, nah, you're putting words in my mouth. I didn't say Google Glass was bad. I said it sounds like insanely fun gadgetry, to be precise. What I did say is that it will have the ability to enable bad things. If you don't think those bad things can possibly happen, you live in a different world than I do.

      oy, I thought I hit submit on this comment, but it seems to have disappeared and come back half-baked. Forgive if this is redundant.

      But as I was saying, if Google isn't paying heed to these privacy concerns, it's Google's attention to privacy that's "bad," not the device itself. If these things don't light up, flash, play pinball music and send up an orange flag over the wearer's head when they're recording/snapping photos/Googling something, then the company's ability to protect individuals privacy is "bad," not that Glass is "bad."

      Macs do it. They've got the green light to alert users when the webcam's on. Ratters hate that.

      Whatever ratters hate is a great thing to incorporate into technology that threatens privacy.

    • guest · 510 days ago

      what a nonsense reply. It is bad by design. It takes away the expectation of anonymity of everyone within ear or eye-shot without consent. That`s like saying knives are not bad if you have to walk down a street with a hundred different sized knives swinging and cutting at you.

  2. Rogier Noort · 592 days ago

    Well written Lisa. It is a sad thing that everything has to be downgraded to such a level where posts like these are valid.
    On the other hand, I don't believe you can stop the technology.
    We started with small digital camera's which made a clicking sound when snapping a photo.., so we knew (heard) if somebody took a photo.
    Now, with the phones we can turn that off... Then comes the Glass.., a couple of years (decades) from now we get an implant.., how do we stop that? We don't.

    The technology is not the problem.., the people using it are.

    By the way.., nice marketing strategy by 5 Point.

    • Lisa Vaas · 592 days ago

      Thanks, Rogier. I agree about 5 Point, though I would hope it's not purely a marketing ploy! And yes, we can't stop the technology. But we can throw clots of dirt at the technology makers' heads and alert them that issues around privacy matter. I hope Google hears these concerns and addresses them, but given its track record, I'm not holding my breath.

      • slutrix · 591 days ago

        Here's an even better policy:

        "If you are wearing Google Glasses, remove and switch them off before entering the premises. Failure to do so will result, at the very best, in you getting kicked out of our establishment and permanently banned from approaching it within a 2-mile radius. Dear patrons: If you see someone wearing Google Glasses in the premises and has gone undetected by our staff, feel free to beat the living daylights out of them."

        • Weebles · 591 days ago

          and this is why people like you are bloody morons, if people take what you say and do it, anyone who wears glasses that look similar to Google Glasses, are going to be attacked by morons like you, please kindly pour yourself a glass of bleach and log out of life.

    • Lifewalker · 516 days ago

      Hello Rogier:

      I totally agree with you. ” The technology is not the problem.., the people producing and using it are”.

      However things are not that linear; there are many aspects to the question that must be dealt with. For short; it is very much like The Hippocratic Oath “ above all I shall do no Harm”....

  3. Adrian · 592 days ago

    Time for an app that scrambles or deadens Google Glass within a 30m radius !!

  4. Keith Paterson · 592 days ago

    Fun gadgetry is what will sell Google Glasses but as a deaf person I look forward to being able to SEE what you are talking about. But this aspect, which could benefit 15% of the world population, has not been considered, although personally I have been rabbiting on about the possibility for 10 years ! But then, I invented the iPad in 1981. I tend to think outside the box as the saying goes.

  5. ddit · 592 days ago

    that's ridiculous, going out with a smartphone and taking pictures instead it's not?

  6. antifreke · 592 days ago

    Seriously though, check the ability of google glass, and compare that to your iPhone. What can you do there that you can't do in a mobile device? The difference is the convenience for the user. If I'm a blogger for restaurants and want to take good pictures of what I'm eating and load them straight to the blog from there, on the spot, then what's the problem?

    • Lisa Vaas · 592 days ago

      the issue is, as ReadWrite noted and I affirm, that you're at least fairly obtrusive when you take out your phone or your camera and point it at somebody. take away the device, and you're just looking around when you're recording/stalking. it becomes an unobtrusive act. which is, as I noted in a comment above, what stalkers love. they love to be undetected. it's why ratters hate the mac green light notification that lets users know their webcams are on. that light renders their stalking visible. Glass removes that notification, allowing stalking to proceed silently and unobtrusively.

      • Wesley · 591 days ago

        "you're at least fairly obtrusive when you take out your phone or your camera and point it at somebody"

        That may have been true in early 2000, but now it's not uncommon to see people out with phones up in front of their face doing any number of things.

        Glass doesn't allow stalkers to stalk ANY BETTER than they can do it out in public now, hell my phone can take photo's WITH NO SOUND, plenty of phones can, and any visit to any adult site will yield photo's of people's rear ends at the store.

        Google glass isn't any more "scary or dangerous" than smart phones are TODAY

  7. Mike · 592 days ago

    Come on Lisa, all those creepy guys have had their very discrete button cam pointed your way for years. Just wearing the glasses makes them too obvious to all but the most unaware.

    • Lisa Vaas · 592 days ago

      O, I think there's a lot of unaware people. I think there will be a lag time between Jane and Joe Doe learning what these new gadgets are capable of.

  8. Chuck Beyer · 592 days ago

    I have a simple approach. If I am in front of someone wearing Google Glass, I will pull my Android phone out and begin recording. I will turn the camera off when they remove the Glass.

  9. James Cullum · 592 days ago

    I imagine this would assist nicely with capturing password/pin entries and "over the shoulder" screen captures.

  10. oleta · 592 days ago

    Once people have prescription glasses fitted with the tech they will have legitimate reason to refuse to remove them in any public setting. So next I want the anti-glass - sunglasses that create an EMP style fog around me.

  11. Rob · 592 days ago

    With bans in place it won't take long for someone to transfer the tech to off-the-shelf glasses. Let's face it - if the military can fly a remotely controlled, camera-equipped insect into your living room (and we know they are trying already) then the big problem is not Google Glass but the continuing advances in technology as a whole.
    Which brings us to the next problem: how to handle this without soundling like a farmer who is afraid these 'ere newfangled steam trains are causing the cows to give less milk?

  12. michael555x · 592 days ago

    I've already implemented a ban of sorts. Since the wearers won't be that bothered about the privacy of others, and they're essentially walking informants for Google's real customers, I will won't trust, engage in private conversation with them, or disclose information about anyone else in their presence.

  13. Janelle Helling · 592 days ago

    Okay, I have trouble seeing anybody wearing a pair of these things and talking to himself being unobtrusive. Unless he skulks in dark corners and windowless vans, he will not go unnoticed. It is likely that people will object in unpredictable ways. How will cops respond to this guy when someone has dialed 911? You tell me.

  14. Richard · 591 days ago

    This is very worrying indeed, I hardly trust google as it is, but this is on a whole new level. Creepy to the extreme. If this is something that was actually created, who knows what they had actually thought up but chose not to implement due to privacy concerns.

    Not only are these glasses an invasion of privacy, they will also aid film copyright infringement. These glasses will have to be banned in every cinema in the country. They will be a movie pirates dream come true (and the MPAAs worst nightmare!).

    • Ashland · 591 days ago

      In public you have ZERO expectation of privacy, also they'll be banned in theaters just like cameras and camcorders are now.

      movie copyright is a joke, the MPAA/RIAA are a bunch of Netherlands who complain over every damn little thing, they said being able to record songs on the radio would kill artists, it didn't, they said being able to burn CDs would kill the music industry, it didn't, then it was MP3 players, then DVD burners.

      Google Glasses will be USELESS for recording movies from theaters, because guess what, a person's head doesn't sit still, it moves ever so slightly, a Go Pro with chest harness would be more suited.

    • jason · 469 days ago

      well, thats cool. Thank God that in 5 years time I will at least be able to take off my public privacy disguise when I am watching a movie. Thats assuming of course the government hasn`t banned hats, beards and sunglasses. I suppose nobody is mentioning the fact that these devices record everything they hear, to be immediately beamed and translated into public text, and stored in a massive NSA data centre in Utah. Nobody seems to have noticed that we are walking into a science fiction nightmare movie, for no other reason than "it`s trendy and cool to be a government spy". Eventually, it will be government mandated to have a spy chip installed in your head at birth, and that will be the end of free humanity. I also hear the phrase "I have nothing to hide so why should I be afraid?". It`s my understanding that there were a lot of Jews in a country called Germany saying the same thing, not so long ago.

  15. raymond · 591 days ago

    I did see an article claiming that it will soon be possible to integrate this technology into ordinary looking glasses. I can see that this could be a security problem for businesses since anyone could presumably sit at their computer with the camera on, taking pictures/video of everything on the screen, and they presumably could have the ability to sniff out Wi-Fi and bluetooth connections. At the moment these glasses are easy to spot but once incorporated into normal looking glasses the security and privacy implications increase dramatically.

  16. Joel · 591 days ago

    Forgive me Lisa, I can't help but think that you are jumping to a lot of conclusions with this article. I have two points to make.

    One, I think you are exaggerating how easy it's going to be for people to do anything sneaky with Glass. In the video posted by Google showing Glass in use and also the video posted by The Verge, the wearers are speaking loudly and clearly for Glass to pick up their commands. How exactly is Glass supposed to pick up the "quietly mutter(ed) voice commands" of a creepster on the hunt? Has Siri and/or Google Voice command ever recognized anything below a barely controlled yell?

    Two, remember the Reddit /r/creepshots shutdown? Creeps were already (and assuredly still are) taking the pictures that you're so sure Google Glass is going to help facilitate. It was happening enough that Reddit jumped in and shut down the sub-Reddit. Having Google Glass isn't going to make it any easier or difficult for people to take sneaky shots of girls...or kids, to use the assertion you were all too happy to jump to.

  17. Patrick · 591 days ago

    Interesting. As somebody who's been really excited for Google Glasses for a while now, I'll admit I hadn't considered this viewpoint (though admittedly, it's always easier for men to forget about these sorts of issues, since by and large we're not the targets when this kind of tech gets abused).

    I remember a couple years ago, there was a proposed piece of legislation to require an audible shutter noise on digital cameras and cellphones that couldn't be disabled-- as far as I know, it never went anywhere, but I could see it making a comeback for something like this.

  18. Andy · 591 days ago

    Stalker toy? probably you don't know anything about photography, a big part of photography is about getting snaps without being noticed, so this glasses is a perfect photography tool.
    Read a little about the big photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand.
    If photographers will be noticed all the time, we wouldn't have all those beautiful pictures that get awarded and published on front pages of magazines and newspapers.

    • gavin · 255 days ago

      I suspect that photographers like Cartier-Bresson would not be able to work any more, their photos would be considered unacceptable. Which is a great pity, to say the least. It's an unfortunate simplification: just because stalkers take photographs, does not mean everybody taking a photo is a stalker.

      I'm certainly more nervous when I'm taking photos in public, I'm always worried someone might object because I'm taking a photo that happened to include them (it's a bit hard to take a photo on a busy city street without including people in it... I guess you could hang aroud till 1 am or something?).

      Unrelated, but I can see one positive side to facial recognition. I'm often introduced to people whose names I then forget (I have a very bad memory). It'd be very handy to have a piece of technology that could prompt me with these people's names if/when I met them again. Of course, I could see privacy implications with this too, perhaps enough to ensure that it never actually happens, but it's not as bad as the same technology giving you the names of people you've not met before.

  19. T_M · 591 days ago

    Well I for one will just watch out for the red light that google say will be on during recording, that and the fact the person wearing them will be yelling "record! no, not a website, record! no not a restaurant RECORD, FFS RECORD...oh forget it, the moment has passed now" LOL

  20. Big Al · 590 days ago

    So many arguments for and against. I personally would like to refer this to George Orwell's "1981". Anybody that hasn't read or heard about this book, do check it before you cry in the years to come. Personally, I'm definately going to get some sort of EMP or electronics blocker to carry around with me at all times.

  21. Dan · 590 days ago

    If you don't want your picture taken, don't go out in public. Or wear a burqua. And for God's sake don't go anywhere with security cameras. Like a bank, the mall, any retail establishment or the entire UK.

    Just stay someplace like your house where you actually have an expectation of privacy and thus some valid reason to get upset if you have your photo taken.

    • Isn't it? · 529 days ago

      If you don't want your nose broken, don't wear those out in public. Just stay someplace like your house where you actually can tape yourself, your dog, your kid picking her nose and none will be offended and have some valid reason to break your face.

    • human · 508 days ago

      Absolutely. I see plenty of things that I'd just as soon wouldn't. But in public, I generally don't have control over what other people do in front of me. And they don't have control over what I record.

  22. vagrant · 525 days ago

    More hysteria.

    If someone was actually going to take creepy pictures of you, they would use a cellphone, or better yet, one of the many hi-tech hidden surveillance devices that have been on the market for years now. Many of them take the form of a pair of glasses.

    The last thing you would use to take creepy pictures is Google Glass. I mean, I have to looking directly at you to take the picture. I have to touch the side of my head or talk to the device out loud. There is a big screen on the front that lights up when it is in use. Also, there is a big fricking camera mounted on the side of it.

    Seriously, people who take creepy pictures will not be using this to do so.

  23. You · 508 days ago

    If you're doing something creepy, and I take a picture of it, how is that my fault?
    And if you are doing something uncreepy and I take a picture of it, how is that creepy?

    This is nothing like taking over someone's webcam. Your webcam belongs to you. You have good reason to believe that you have control over who sees you on your webcam.

    But what happens in public . . . happens in public.

  24. Fred · 427 days ago

    Being that you can already buy hi-def wearable spycams for under $100, these bans are just silly and done to make the paranoid feel good. If someone wants to record you, they can and there is NOTHING you can do about it.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.