Glass users often respond to such concerns with a smug “Get over it,” or by asking “Well, did you ask everyone to get rid of their smartphones?” Smartphones are an excellent example of a technology that went from unknown to ubiquitous in a short amount of time, but comparing them to Google Glass in this particular context ignores the privacy issue that makes people nervous about Glass. People may be used to cellphones, but walk around all day with the phone in front of your face and the camera pointed at everyone you interact with, and people are most assuredly going to comment on it.
Image courtesy of Penny Arcade
Proponents of Glass will protest that the device’s capabilities as a video camera have been blown out of proportion. Glass can only record a trivial amount of video, it has a visible recording light (easy to disable), and its video quality is lousy. All of these things are true. What’s fascinating about the Glass debate is that it doesn’t just raise the question of what degree of privacy people should have in any given context — it also challenges ideas about how humans should interact with each other.
People, generally speaking, are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of being watched at any given moment. Closed-circuit cameras are widely deployed in many cities as a security measure, but these cameras are typically either automated (tape is reviewed if a crime is committed) or monitored by a security officer who typically isn’t in plain view. If being watched by a camera mounted in a store can be unsettling, being monitored by someone pointing a camera directly atyou tends to provoke a response. One of the greatest backlashes against Kinect was against the idea that the device could be used for surveillance (Microsoft’s patent filings and the Snowden leaks didn’t help here).
Cool dude, or Glasshole, that is the question
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