Rebunking Google's Glass "myth" debunking

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Privacy, Security threats

HMS Unicorn with Google GlassGoogle appears to be bristling a teensy bit about what it thinks are people's unfounded prejudices against Glass.

On Thursday, the company went into debunking mode, publishing what it called The Top 10 Google Glass Myths.

Let us calmly, without overuse of a term used to refer to stubborn Glass wearers, rebunk a few of those supposed myths, with an eye to the privacy- and/or security-centric ones in particular.

Myth or Non-Myth: Glass is always on and recording everything
Google says:

Just like your cell phone, the Glass screen is off by default. Video recording on Glass is set to last 10 seconds. People can record for longer, but Glass isn't designed for or even capable of always-on recording (the battery won’t last longer than 45 minutes before it needs to be charged). So next time you’re tempted to ask an Explorer if he’s recording you, ask yourself if you’d be doing the same with your phone. Chances are your answers will be the same.

Point 1: The length of recording is irrelevant when privacy is being invaded. Just ask the guy who was arrested for upskirting women on Boston's subway whether 10 seconds would be enough time to point his mobile phone camera up women's skirts and snap photos of their sexual bits.

Point 2: Google would have us believe that Glass will indicate that it's on and recording by virtue of its green camera-on light.

It would be reassuring to believe that's a reliably tell-tale sign of being recorded, but multiple researchers have shown that it can be tinkered with.

As far as taking still photos goes, most recently, researchers demonstrated their Glass spyware app's ability to surreptitiously take photos of a Glass wearer him- or herself.

And then too there was the work done by Android and iOS developer Jay Freeman, in which he found that he could root Glass and thus install any software he wanted.

That's pretty creepy, given what rooting can allow a wearer to do, Freeman said, including turning off the recording indicator light.

How did he do it? As he told ZDNet, Glass's light isn't hardwired, like on many webcams, meaning it can be circumvented via software.

Bingo: surreptitious recording for stalker creeps, without being given away by that tell-tale light.

So yes, if a Glass-clad person is ogling you, please feel free to ask if they're recording.

Myth or non-Myth: Glass Explorers are technology-worshipping geeks
Google says:

In fact, many Explorers say because of Glass they use technology less, because they’re using it much more efficiently. We know what you’re thinking: “I’m not distracted by technology”. But the next time you’re on the subway, or, sitting on a bench, or in a coffee shop, just look at the people around you. You might be surprised at what you see.

You say "technology-worshipping geek" as if that's a bad thing.

But no, of course Glass users aren't all cut from the same cloth. Unfortunately, Glass people can undeniably veer into the technology-obsessed - a fault when it impinges on the comfort or privacy of others.

The more notable cases of inconsiderate behavior include that of Sarah Slocum, who claimed she was attacked for wearing Google Glass.

Video captured from her Glass shows that, before they were ripped from her face, people were shielding themselves from being videotaped.

In fact, Slocum says that before she was de-Glassified, she had been demonstrating the device to a curious person.

Demonstrating in such a way that users were being involuntarily recorded? Yes, this is a case where technology-obsessed geekiness made a Glass user oblivious to the comfort of those around her.

The case of Nick Starr, the man who refused to take off his Glass in a Seattle restaurant and reportedly went on a rant, demanding that the waitperson in question be fired after he was asked to remove his Glass, is another case that shows that Glass-technology love can get out of hand.

Not always, of course, but yes, what Google calls a "myth" is informed by real-world instances.

Besides, distraction is most certainly a concern. Already, one woman was issued a traffic ticket in October 2013 for speeding and distracted driving after being stopped while wearing Glass.

Web and mobile app developer Cecilia Abadie claimed the device was not switched on at the time and was cleared of the charges in January 2014.

But try to tell the UK Department of Transport that the devices aren't distracting. As of July 2013, the department was planning to ban drivers from using Glass before Google even managed to launch in the UK.

Myth or non-Myth: Myth 5: Glass does facial recognition (and other dodgy things)
Google says:

Nope. That’s not true. As we’ve said before, regardless of technological feasibility, we made the decision based on feedback not to release or even distribute facial recognition Glassware unless we could properly address the many issues raised by that kind of feature. And just because a weird application is created, doesn’t mean it’ll get distributed in our MyGlass store. We manually approve all the apps that appear there and have several measures in place (from developer policies and screenlocks to warning interstitials) to help protect people’s security on the device.

Policies do not equate to technological barriers. The California Polytechic grad students who created the aforementioned Glass spyware got it onto the Google Play app store for Android.

As Forbes's Andy Greenberg reported, the developers didn’t bother to try getting it into the MyGlass store after their professor tweeted about their work. The professor had received a response from a Google staffer, after which the app was quickly removed from Google Play.

Sure, it came down after Google found out about it, but there was nothing that kept the spyware app from getting up to begin with.

Besides, a facial recognition app doesn't have to get onto MyGlass or Google Play to get onto your Glass. As mentioned, rooting Glass is straightforward, and as one of the spyware researchers noted, it's a wild, wild west with the non-Google-sanctified apps out there.

One such is NameTag, an app that can spot a face and wirelessly match it up to social media profiles.

It was in beta for Google Glass users in January and was slated to be released as an app for iOS and Android.

The developers said in a release that that "Making Real-Time Facial Recognition work on Glass hasn’t been easy," but that sure hasn't stopped them, in spite of Google having announced that it's not yet supporting facial recognition for Glass.

Myth or non-Myth: Glass is banned... EVERYWHERE
Google says:

Since cell phones came onto the scene, folks have been pretty good at creating etiquette and the requisite (and often necessary) bans around where someone can record (locker rooms, casino floors, etc.). Since Glass functionality mirrors the cell phones (down to the screen being off by default), the same rules apply.

"Everywhere?" "EVERYWHERE?" Um... no. Not a real myth. They've been banned in some bars and restaurants, but I've never heard anybody shout out in full caps that 's they've been banned ubiquitously. Google must have needed another myth to debunk for its listicle.

Myth or non-Myth: Glass marks the end of privacy

Sophos Labs's John Bryan recently pondered whether data privacy is an out-of-date concept, given the intimate things that people - particularly young people - don't seem to think twice about giving away.

Naked Security's Mark Stockley said that no, it's more important than ever.

Mark suggests that the biggest difference between privacy today and the past is not how liberal our attitudes are but how permanent our data privacy choices have become. Once disclosed, online, data can be impossible to claw back.

Does Glass mark the end of privacy?

No one thing can be said to mark the end of privacy, but things can collaterally nibble it away.

Much depends on how we use Glass, and on how we allow it to be used.

If our images are captured without our permission, for example, then yes, Glass is helping to erode our privacy.

If they're used for facial recognition that then links somebody to our social media profiles, then yes, Glass is not helping our privacy.

Google is right to question misperceptions about its inventions.

But rendering questions in hyperbolic terms so the "myths" can be laughed off isn't doing justice to the validity of concerns raised by this technology.

Google, you're right to have brought up these issues.

Now, let's drop the full-caps and the jokey attitude and talk seriously about these issues.

HMS Unicorn image licensed under Creative Commons.

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39 Responses to Rebunking Google's Glass "myth" debunking

  1. For those of us who have to wear glasses, prescription Google Glass may be of interest to some. For those who don't wear glasses, wearing Google Glass will not be a pleasant experience and for those who try it, it will be a short-lived experience.

  2. Naked Security totally loses me on the Glass hate. And this article is more nonsense on the subject from them. It's a re-use of a handful of negative Glass wearer stories that this site and its writers continually try to use to paint the entire technology as negative. I mean jeeze, one of the "examples" they give is the woman given a ticket for driving distracted while using glass, which was thrown out in court because the device wasn't even turned on! And the thing about the recording light being able to be turned off, or facial recognition being able to be implemented is a total non-argument. So because technology is *capable* of being misused it is automatically bad? The "upskirt" example for instance is particularly ignorant as people use cell phone cameras for this constantly. I don't see Naked Security bashing the inclusion of cameras on cell phones!

    And as for people angry at being recorded in public places, get a grip. We're all recorded hundreds of times a day just walking around. CCTV cameras, ATM cameras, pedestrians taking photos of other things, etc. If you're in a public place, you don't have an expectation to never be photographed or filmed.

    As I once read someone say, "You don't own the light that bounces off of you".

    • Paul Ducklin · 557 days ago

      "You don't own the light that bounces off of you."

      You don't? Tell that to actors, models, and performing artists (or to anyone who ever got a DMCA takedown notice for hosting a computer file that represents the light bouncing off someone else :-)

      "If you're in a public place, you don't have an expectation to never be photographed or filmed."

      So are you saying we should erode that position even further by shrugging our shoulders about Google's so-called "Explorers"? That we buy into the theory that since the battery is limited, and the recording time therefore restricted, we can relax about privacy invasions?

      In many (but not all) jurisdictions, you can only record a one-to-one phone conversation if you have the consent of the other party, even if you're the one who was called up. So we already have the idea of what you might call "bilateral consent" in respect of recording what other people say to us. Why shouldn't we talk about extending that to the recording of still and video images?

      • Both of your analogies are fatally flawed. First, it's not illegal to photograph an actor, model or performing artist **in public**. Thus why Paparazzi are able to exist (another example of how analog technology can be just as intrusively used and promoting of boorish behavior). The reason people get in trouble for hosting files is that they represent a copyrighted creative work, not because the creator has a right to privacy. Two totally separate issues. Like, not even *remotely* similar.

        Second, phone conversation recording standards exist because there *is* a reasonable expectation of privacy in a phone conversation. If I am at home, in an empty room, and I am speaking to another individual in a way that I have no expectation that I will be overheard then I have an expectation that the conversation is private. However, if I had that same conversation sitting outside at a café, and police (or an private investigator) used a long-range mic to hear me, then that is totally legal. When you do something IN PUBLIC you abdicate your right to claim that what you did was PRIVATE.

        This isn't rocket science.

        • Paul Ducklin · 557 days ago

          It certainly isn't rocket science! Rocket science is surprisingly well-understood and the principles are reasonably well known (and vaguely universal, and fairly straightforward).

          Why shouldn't I have an expectation of privacy against eavesdroppers when I am clearly doing something that isn't meant for everybody, even if I'm not sitting at home? (On a point of science, rocket or not, if you're in an empty room, it's not empty, is it?)

          Why shouldn't I be allowed to step outside my own home and enjoy some trappings of privacy? Why should Google be allowed to drive down my street and take photos of my house, and garden, and whether I repainted in the last few years, and commercialise it, just because of some old-school laws that say what they're doing is "public"?

          And what about the very many people in the world who are homeless? By your rigid differentiation between public and private, they don't really have anywhere to be private. Why not? The "public world" is jolly well big enough to cut people some slack, both de facto and (to control those who won't play fair) de iure.

          Why should sitting in the corner of the park chatting to my wife, with no-one else around, quietly and initmately, count as an unprivate moment?

          You've accepted some sort of stark line between IN PUBLIC and PRIVATE, which your capital letters only seem to make yet starker, and then simply defined my rights and expectations in those terms. Why should I have to "adbicate" (that's not actually the right word) all my expectations of privacy when I leave home? Why should I have to corral myself in an (almost) empty room to enjoy any legalistic semblance of privacy?

          Why SHOULD you be allowed to come and stick your Google Glasses in my face and suck me, willing or not, into the movie of your life, wherever we might be on earth?

          So, to be sure, it's *not* rocket science...

          • Anonymous · 557 days ago

            Perhaps abrogate would be better than abdicate?

            • Paul Ducklin · 557 days ago

              "Give up" would do fine. Abrogate implies repealing a law. Abdicate may have been a figure of speech (deliberately or otherwise) by the OP to imply that he thinks my opinions on privacy are somewhat kingly.

            • I was using abdicate in the "to voluntarily give up" sense. I used it specifically because by doing something in a public place (a public park for instance) one should be conscious of the choice they are making in *voluntarily* giving up the privacy they enjoy at home.

              I feel it conveys my meaning quite well. I stand by my word choice! :)

              • Steve · 555 days ago

                I think "waive" would be the appropriate choice.

                • Paul Ducklin · 555 days ago

                  I think you may have got it. That's enough IMO to capture the OP's sense that this is a sort of legal formalism, and to reflect my unwillingness that our laws about public and private in privacy should be defined so abruptly.

          • "Why SHOULD you be allowed to come and stick your Google Glasses in my face and suck me, willing or not, into the movie of your life, wherever we might be on earth?"

            More ridiculous hyperbole. Again, **no one** here is advocating for total freedom for anyone to take photos or video anywhere they want. No one can come into your home and video you without consent. They can't video you in a public restroom or a gym locker room.

            But you want to talk about "should" now? Because you seem to be conceding that the law agrees with me on this. So **why** are our laws set up this way? It's a discussion worth having.

            Yes, we all have freedom against being recorded in many places. But our freedom is not limitless. When the interests of two people conflict, our freedom stops when it interferes with the freedom of another person.

            People have the right to create videos for personal use of the things that happen around them. In America it's protected by the right to free expression. And when two freedoms come into conflict we tend to come down on the side of preventing harm, preserving public interest and deciding on the side that least restricts our ability to act freely.

            How does someone taking a video that you happen to be in, not a video **of** you, just a video in a bar that you happen to be in, harm you? How does it restrict your freedom in any way? How does it impinge on your activities?

            Does it limit the things you can do? Does it limit the things you can say? Does it cause physical harm to your person? No, no and no.

            It might piss you off, but that isn't a reason to restrict the freedom of someone else. It pisses me off when someone talks loudly on a Bluetooth headset while waiting in line for coffee. But that's not a reason to make it illegal.

            However, making it illegal for anyone to even take a picture of your *property* would be a huge burden for visual art! By that logic would it be illegal of someone to paint a picture that included your house? I don't see why not!

            It would be a giant limit on freedom of expression.

            In short, you don't get to say what other people can do, so long as they don't hurt you. That's the law, at least in America. That's what "freedom" really means. Not the freedom you want, which is freedom to tell everyone else what they can and can't do.

            • Paul Ducklin · 557 days ago

              Errrr, I don't live in America.

              • Well, then I can't speak intelligently about your laws or why they are (or maybe aren't) set up that way!

              • However, my point stands. Some ban on taking video or photos in public would be a huge restriction on the creative and expressive freedom of many people. And what harm is it preventing? Especially considering the ubiquitous nature of video recording everywhere. If you live in Britain (as I might guess by your use of "jolly well") then you have **way** more video taken of you regularly than almost any other nation in the world already!

                • Paul Ducklin · 557 days ago

                  To be more accurate, "some ban on taking video or photos in public" might be a modest restriction on the creative freedom of some people.

            • Your post above is a perfect example of why 99% of people feel that wearing a technology like this is the preserve of the socially inept. Let me explain something to you - most people do not set their behavior in social and public areas based on what is "legal". They base it upon what is decent and non-creepy according to the social contract.

              It's legal to walk into a bar and walk up to every girl in the bar one after another and ask each one for her number. And if they say no it's perfectly legal to return two minutes later and ask them the same question again. All legal. That doesn't make it right or non-pathetic.

              Let me ask you a question - are you fine with a guy standing around in front of an elementary school or a playground wearing one of these? How about when your girlfriend is lying on the sand at the beach - it's perfectly reasonable to walk over observe her while wearing one of these, right? Same thing if it's your tween daughter, right? Perfectly fine, because IT'S LEGAL!!!

              Regarding your comments above about CCTV cameras etc, this just goes to show how utterly lacking in basic common sense that google glass advocates are. When I'm recorded on CCTV you are recorded by a business or some other institution. The recording is not normally made at close range and if that recording is uploaded or broadcast somewhere and I have a problem with it, I know exactly where to go and who to complain to. Most businesses do not ever even review the footage, it is deleted automatically. They certainly don't go around posting it to their social media bullshit accounts.

              Contrast that with people who think it's perfectly okay to go out in the real world with a video recording device strapped to their face so that anybody and anything that they gaze at can be recorded with literally the blink of an eye. (Don't bother telling me that you have to do a voice command, the entire device has already been rooted and the camera recording light isn't even hotwired to the camera so that'll be hacked asap also).

              Finall, before you go assuming that I am some anti-technology luddite let me tell you that I have a masters degree in multimedia systems development. I work as a Digital Asset Management consultant building image databases for large clients and I am perfectly aware of how technologies such as this can be abused via facial recognition, etc.

              To be perfectly clear - it may be legal to walk around using this device. That doesn't make it right or reasonable in public settings. It's users will be treated with the contempt they deserve.

          • Jack Wilborn · 556 days ago

            Law, is generally applied from the early ideas of what is what. Many of them are difficult to imagine when technology changes the environment.

            An expectation of privacy is usually not available if you are in the public view, which is one of the basis of this idea. If it's in public you don't care or you wouldn't do it there. If you go out in public and do things that you want to private, you will lose any expectations of privacy because anyone can be anywhere.

            Like phones, you expect privacy, but many law enforcement people and some of our courts have ruled that if it's not analog, over a wire, then that expectation of privacy does not exist as anyone can monitor radio waves (at least in the US.) Only in the past couple of decades has it been illegal to receive things in the cell phone bands. Even then, you can cut a couple of diodes and receive them, even if illegal. You still find out what they are talking about, hence losing any privacy.

            People with no homes (homeless) would have to be in someplace like a bathroom to expect privacy. Just because they are homeless doesn't give them any other expectations. Plus how is anyone to know they are homeless?

            Many things change as technology changes our environment, but the laws written a couple hundred years ago, are pretty firm in the courts eyes. Some of these, obviously need to be modified. I think cell phones should have the same privacy rights as any other phone. I also think many believe e-mail should be private, I also agree even though it's known to 'leak'...

          • Anonymous · 498 days ago

            ... why not? How about, because that's the way it works. If you are in public, you have no expectation of privacy. I'm sorry if "some old-school laws" offend you, but that is the law.

            • Paul Ducklin · 497 days ago

              I often hear people saying, "In public you have no expectation of privacy. It's the law." Firstly, laws aren't the only thing that determine our behavioural norms, at least in what I think is referred to as civil society. And secondly, I do have at least some rights to privacy in public. (Controversy about police stop-and-search wouldn't exist if I didn't, surely?)

        • LindaB · 557 days ago

          In the UK it *is* illegal to sell the resulting picture you took in a public place. You can take pictures of anyone in a public place for your own use only, the use for *any* other purpose is specifically banned.

          Phone conversations can be recorded but, again, only with the permission of both parties. (But it seems some security organisations think they are above the law, especially a now famous one in the USA).

          That technology is capable of something means you, the user, have to be aware of both the legal implications and the social acceptability or otherwise of the use of that technology. Example, a great many people find it disturbing when out for a dinner when someone uses their mobile phone and speaks loudly in the presence of other diners who have no wish to know anything about the conversation. If you want to make/receive the call, go outside.

          • AndyM · 556 days ago

            "In the UK it *is* illegal to sell the resulting picture you took in a public place"
            But it is legal to publish the picture for non commercial purposes. There are exceptions if the pic includes police, security services, members of armed forces, court or military buildings.

            "Phone conversations can be recorded but, again, only with the permission of both parties"
            From the OFTEL website:
            Can I record telephone conversations on my home phone?
            Yes. The relevant law, RIPA, does not prohibit individuals from recording their own communications provided that the recording is for their own use

            • Jack Wilborn · 556 days ago

              Here in the US, you can record anything that comes over your phone line. However to use it for any civil or criminal prosecutions are not allowed except:

              Some states allow you to record and use the information for civil and criminal prosecutions.

              Some states dis-allow this and you can be prosecuted for doing so.

              However if you have the beep everything 10 seconds, it's assumed that both parties know and agree to the recording, even if some places state it. You just have to have the beep.

      • Jim · 557 days ago

        I think there's a middle ground here somewhere. Paul, you guys do tend to lean rather heavily on Glass and other things. Too much so? I'm not sure. But, I CAN see Jerod's point.

        But, Jerod, Sophos is a security company. They do security; that's their business. So, their training and corporate philosophy has to have them leaning against any form of insecurity. Privacy definitely counts as security, so their stance is expected and at least somewhat valid.

        Finally, remember that people in the public eye have fewer protections, but that's because they have made a "choice" to be in the public eye. Courts have ruled thusly. However, in the US at least, courts have also ruled that people NOT in the public eye retain reasonable expectations of privacy. So, it isn't proper to use celebrity incidents to make a point unless the point is specifically dealing with celebrities.

        • Paul Ducklin · 557 days ago

          My point, perhaps somewhat laboured, was that if we just say, "We already defined PUBLIC and PRIVATE and that's that," we've lost a chance at improving privacy. And, ignoring issues of societal mores, ethics, human rights, etc., you hit the nail on the head when you said, "Privacy definitely counts as security."

          OK, they aren't synonyms, but a world with no privacy sounds like a world with ever more identity theft, fraud, cybercriminality, and so on.

          (And I still don't see why I can't, for example, eat a pizza in a nominally public place without some sort of legalistic protection against PEOPLE WHO WANT TO FILM ME FOR THEIR OWN TITIVATION. FILM YOURSELF EATING YOUR OWN PIZZA, AND LEAVE MY QUATTRO STAGIONE OUT OF IT! Not that I feel strongly about it.)

          • Anonymous · 557 days ago

            This is a very interesting conversation. I would like to play the devil's advocate, but I actually more side with Jerod on this issue.
            Paul, I am really curious (I'm not being facetious) how you would adjust our laws or our perceptions of public activities so that they could be private.

            As a couple of points to discuss:
            What if we broke public privacy down a little more. Where would we draw the line at as to what should be private?
            Using the analogy of Paul sitting down at a public restaurant to devour his Quattro Stagione pizza.
            Is it the documentation of Paul eating the pizza that is invasion of privacy, or would it be the dissemination of that information the invasion of privacy?
            Is the act of recording him eating that pizza an invasion of privacy?
            Do I have to share the recording for it to be an invasion of privacy?
            Does a single picture fall under invasion of privacy?
            What about if I wrote in my journal about seeing a man ravenously devour a Quattro Stagione pizza?
            What if my journal was a public blog on the Internet?
            What if I just told a friend in a face to face encounter that someone was eating what appeared to be a delicious pizza?

            Let's try taking the analogy a few more years into the future, and exaggerate technology a bit.
            Does the memory of you eating that pizza invade your privacy? What if I was able to extract the memory from my head as a movie or a picture and store it on a computer?
            Maybe go old school and describe the event, from memory, to a sketch artist to recreate the scene. Does this invade your privacy?

            I don't think that it is feasible to be out in public and expect any type of privacy. Now there are exceptions to this; maybe you are in a private club, or a meeting at a hotel. In those situations you would be quasi-public.
            But then again, I have been wrong in the past, so it's plausible that I am wrong now.

          • Joshua Gambrill · 556 days ago

            Very interesting discussion here (and I'm glad naked security writers are allowing it to continue), the point I would make here is if you try to lock down public security rules where does it stop? I ride my dirt bike around with a go pro on reasonably often, I usually have it not recording when I'm around town (because the footage is dull) but what if I ride past a public camp ground with it on and capture some people with it?

            I had no intention of filming them I have no real interest in what they are doing but I may still want to share the video (or put it on you tube etc), do I have to delete any parts that may contain other people in them in this new privacy model you are suggesting Paul?

            • Paul Ducklin · 556 days ago

              Ha! I've been thinking a fair bit about GoPros lately, as you can imagine. I would like to think that you would not publish videos of other people unless you had their permission. In something like a bike race it might be a condition of entering that all competitors to be allowed to video everyone else...but if you happen to pass hikers en route, say, why not just cut them out of the video? (As you say, there's a lot of other material to choose from :-)

              I guess for me the deal is that if they'd prefer not to be filmed, why should your "artistic expressiveness" come ahead of that? And if you don't know their preference, why not assume the answer is, "No thanks"?

              The problem with opt-out is that...hey, isn't opt-in simply safer and fairer all round? And egalitarian...those who can't answer or who might feel intimidated into agreeing will not be disadvantaged.

              Maybe that's just me. I'd prefer to live in an opt-in society, all else equal. It just feels more, well, more sociable and respectful.

        • " However, in the US at least, courts have also ruled that people NOT in the public eye retain reasonable expectations of privacy. So, it isn't proper to use celebrity incidents to make a point unless the point is specifically dealing with celebrities."

          I understand this, and I was responding to him bringing up copyright violation (a totally separate issue).

          And yes, and we do have laws to protect people from harassment by photographers and media. And all those laws would also apply to people using Glass. So, again, this goes back to my question of how is Glass any more dangerous than cell phone cameras?

          • Jim · 556 days ago

            Agreed. We're all painting with rather narrow brushstrokes here, and I suspect there's a middle ground.

            BUT, we need the end-case opinions as well, lest the middle ground fail to be in the middle any more.

            Which is why I think both perspectives NEED to be put forth. We in security need to remember the needs and requirements of both those who desire, need, or require high privacy/security, but also those who think the word "freedom" really means freedom.

            It's a matter of where we draw the line. And, IMO it should be a very broad line indeed. This kind of discussion should help us lay out some boundaries for the "middle ground" I'm referring to.

    • Vito Tuxedo · 557 days ago

      “As I once read someone say, ‘You don't own the light that bounces off of you’.”

      You say that like it’s some sort of revelation. It’s not. No one can own photons/electromagnetic waves. The same is true of electrons that carry your private conversations in a copper wire. They are natural phenomena. Humans didn’t create them, and humans can’t own them.

      But that’s a spurious argument, and that’s not the issue. This is a a clear cut property issue, and the property involved is not the light but rather the information it contains. Your appearance, your actions, your speech, your very behavior — those are all aspects of your property. No one has any right to interfere with them or take control of them without your permission.

      If you are unable to grok the moral principle involved by instruction from those who are able to think through the issue more clearly than you are, then fear the heck not — you will eventually understand it on a school of hard knocks, in-your-face level when some jerkwad “Explorer” posts video or images of you on the Intertubes without your permission, and it contains information about you that is no one’s business but yours.

      If they even bother to respond to your objections, they likely will say, “You don’t own the light that bounces off of you.”

      • Nice use of ad hominim.

        I understand your argument, I just think it's wrong. Maybe one day you'll be able to grok that someone can disagree with you and not be amoral or ignorant, just a person with a different opinion.

        Also, you're simply wrong about what you say about owning the "information in the light that bounces off of you". At least that's not the case in any nation I'm aware of. Certainly it's not "clear cut" in your favor like you seem to want to pretend.

        If you're in a PUBLIC PLACE people can photograph you, video you and record what you say and do. They can put that information on the internet, view it in their private home alone or with others, even sell it for monetary gain. In short, they can do anything with it so long as they don't do it with malicious intent to cause you harm.

        For reference, see the vast majority of self-shot videos on YouTube. There's a damn good chance, by the way, that I'm already in someone's video, photo or recording shared somewhere on the internet without my knowledge. In fact, I'd be *shocked* if that were *not* the case.

        You are simply flat-out wrong. I'm sorry you're upset about it, but you are.

        • Vito Tuxedo · 556 days ago

          I'm not upset. I'm simply pointing out facts that you reject. That's your choice to make.

          BTW, nice dodge of the moral issue with your "just a person with a different opinion" statement. I've seen it before. It usually signals an entrenched belief in moral relativism that no intellectual argument is likely to dislodge. The fact remains that all opinions are neither equally valid nor equally true.

          But go ahead and cling to yours anyway if you must. You will have to learn the hard way that the kind of interference you advocate now will come back to bite you on the backside. Good luck.

    • Spit Shine · 556 days ago

      > "And the thing about the recording light being able to be turned off, or facial recognition being able to be implemented is a total non-argument."

      How are these points a non-argument? People have already proven it can be done! If a security researcher can do it so can a criminal.

  3. Spryte · 557 days ago

    So google says:

    "folks have been pretty good at creating etiquette"


    OK, some have. But from what I've seen that might be a single digit percentile.
    Perhaps I'm hanging around with the wrong crowd(s).

  4. Regardless of the legalities, any right-minded person would think it's provocative, socially unacceptable and downright creepy to point a camera at complete strangers without their permission. The people in that San Francisco bar seem to think so.

    • Jim · 556 days ago

      Good point. But, you've also hit upon the heart of this discussion: There are differences between acceptable, ethical, and legal. Some things are acceptable but neither ethical nor legal. Some are legal, but not acceptable, and ethical doesn't enter the picture. There are a host of possibilities.

      So, if we think about those 3 words as a survey or test, different people would check the boxes differently. In this very discussion we've seen people who would call some act ethical and others who would not.

      What is needed is to discern all of the possibilities, and make laws which neither step on the freedom-seeking person's toes, nor harm the people who might be offended more easily.

      Is there even an answer to this? Were Glass wired and small enough to be invisible, it wouldn't be noticed. But, does that make it right to use in these settings and with people who don't want to be recorded? If nobody is around to see you run a red light, is it any less wrong?

      • Yes, I do believe there is an answer, and society will find it without the need for legislation. Most people know it's inappropriate to point a camera in someone's direction without asking, and perhaps most people feel some revulsion when they're having a camera pointed at them. Everyone's going to react in their own way to this.
        I can also imagine a few misunderstandings over whether x was filming y, regardless of that little red light - just inadvertently looking at someone else's kids while wearing the glasses, or accidentally glancing at someone mentally unstable is enough to provoke a reaction. Understandably, I might add.

        Maybe Google will decide that Google Glass wasn't such a good idea after all.

  5. Tony · 556 days ago

    Fascinating discussion on this post.

    I'm having a hard time understanding the arguments that demonize Google Glass specifically as if Glass is *the* catalyst for the end of privacy.

    Call me overly optimistic, but I really believe that Glass has been the catalyst for bringing more people into a privacy discussion that started when sites like YouTube and Facebook started growing in popularity. And that's a good thing.

    As it's been mentioned in the posts above, just about everything Google Glass does is already possible with a cell phone or even analog camera. The only thing new is the form factor.

    I agree with some of the rebuttal points the writer makes *to an extent*. However, singling out attention-seeking Explorers in select news stories, singling out features that a rooted device is capable of (over which Google has little control), and singling out *possible* activities that people with malicious intent could *possibly* do... that's not a full evidence-based argument. Google's myth debunking centers around a typical Glass Explorer. I have participated in the surveys and discussion boards from where the data they're using comes. Look, if a rational Glass Explorer (or anybody, for that matter) wanted to secretly spy or stalk someone, there are products in the market for doing that. And those products are much cheaper than rooting and voiding the warranty of a $1,500 Google Glass.

    I agree that a world with ubiquitous Glass pushes privacy limits (and the ensuing debate) to a new threshold, simply because taking pictures and videos with Glass is *easier* than ever to do.

    I don't know how I feel about creating new laws banning Glass in certain situations. Personally, I only wear my Glass when I'm alone or with my family. When in social situations, I think of them like headphones. It's just rude to have a conversation with someone while wearing headphones. I think social norms will shake most of this privacy issue out without getting lawmakers involved.

    I just disagree with this general notion from some people that Glass is the problem. I almost hate to make the comparison (haters are gonna hate anyway), but if you were to swap out "guns" with "Glass", and "kill" with "privacy", I guess the argument I'm making is "Glass doesn't invade people's privacy, *people* invade people's privacy."

  6. Mark · 497 days ago

    One thing no one has mentioned here yet is the fundamental difference between the Google Glass and any other device with a camera in it. If I hold my phone up in a position that I can film someone it is very obvious what I am doing. I could claim that I'm not filming and almost no one would believe me. Why hold a phone like that for no reason?

    The trouble with the Google Glass is while being worn it is permanently in the filming position. As mentioned before there is no way to absolutely guarantee that you aren't surreptitiously being filmed.

    It was clear from the video of the patrons in the San Francisco bar that they assumed they were being filmed (and they were right). I think many people would take this de facto approach. Unless you clearly demonstrate that you aren't filming, you are assumed to be filming. Given that the camera light can be easily hacked the only way to confirm you aren't filming is to take the Glass off.

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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.