Google Glass and the emerging Glasshole culture

Google Glass and the emerging Glasshole culture

Summary: Lifelogging augmented-reality devices such as Glass are eventually going to become commonly used technologies. But what are the cultural and sociological implications?


This week, Google released an early version of an SDK, as well as hardware specifications for its Glass augmented-reality monocular device, which is going to be seeded to an initial batch of select software developers and high-profile end-users.

These folks are among those who are willing to pay the early adoption fee of $1,500 and become one of the select few to wear, test, and develop software for the product.

(Image: CBS Interactive)

There's a not-so-flattering descriptor that has already been applied to this group of digital cognoscenti who have been seen recently at industry conferences and public venues wearing the device: Glassholes.

It could certainly be argued that whenever a new consumer technology enters society, those who are quick to adopt it are typically ridiculed by the have-nots. Eventually, many of these technologies become commonplace and are more accepted by the mainstream, particularly when they become more affordable.

This has pretty much always been the case, starting with the radio pager, then the cellular phone, text capable handsets, and then, of course, Bluetooth headsets, the smartphone and the tablet.

People who first used these things were once seen very much as elitist and not part of the mainstream, and they were considered disruptive.

To some extent, even with their popularity, they are still considered disruptive when used in various social contexts.

However, Glass is very different from all of these technologies. While it is, at the end of the day, a mobile technology platform just like a smartphone or a tablet, it differs in that it is an "always-on" technology that has one particular feature that the others do not — and that's the issue of lifelogging.

Lifelogging is fundamentally the same as having a smartphone or any small digital camera that can record and store many hours of video.

Virtually every smartphone on the market today has a built-in high-definition camera with enough onboard storage to record an entire day's worth of events, if someone wanted to use them that way and it had enough reserve battery power to do it.

But at least with these technologies, you know when they are being used. It's obvious when someone is using a smartphone or a tablet to take photographs or record video.

I'm not so sure I can live in a culture where everyone is lifelogging virtually all of the time.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, I suggest you listen to Louis CK's diatribe on the subject.

With Glass, because the device is being worn and there's no indication of when it is being used, one has to assume that the wearer is recording everyone all of the time.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I have serious issues with the notion that I could be recorded by everyone at any time. 

Look, I am aware that law enforcement and government agencies have us under surveillance, and it's not uncommon for people to be photographed and videoed hundreds of times per day, particularly if you live in a major city.

That I can accept, and it's a price that we have to pay for living in a modern society where there are people out to do us harm, and our government and law enforcement agencies need to protect us.

That's become extremely evident in recent days, as law enforcement officials in Boston sort out hundreds of hours of video, not just from stationary surveillance cameras, but from videos shot by onlookers at the marathon itself.

Sometimes, video recording at a mass scale has social benefits besides law enforcement.

Dashboard-mounted car cameras used to record footage of highway criminal activity, as well as police and government corruption in Russia, were used extensively by private citizens to video document a once-in-a-century meteor strike in Siberia in February of 2013.

Video recording can be a powerful tool, but it's also a major privacy intrusion. 

I'm not so sure I can live in a culture where everyone is lifelogging virtually all of the time. I have an idea of what one might look like, though.

In Robert J Sawyer's Hugo Award-winning science fiction novel Hominids, which is part of his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, he portrays a humanoid society on an alternate version of earth in which virtually no crime or any form of violence occurs because every person has an implant in their body that causes all of their life events to be recorded and uploaded to a centralized storage repository.

The novel was published in 2002, but today, we'd call that centralized storage repository the Cloud. 

There's a plot element in the novel that details what happens in those rare instances in which a murder takes place and a subject goes to trial. Suffice to say that, unlike our society, where private audio and video recordings have to be submitted as evidence and might not be admissable in court, this is not the case in the world in which Sawyer has envisioned.

In the world of Hominids, a person's life is judged upon the content of their lifelogging.

My concern is not so much that people will be caught commiting crimes. For those purposes, I believe privately recorded video and audio most definitely should be considered as evidence in a court of law.

It's the things that are not so much criminal, but which are said and done in close company that make me nervous about lifelogging tech.

There are things you only say and do with close friends in confindence, others which may be revealed in private business meetings, et cetera. We all know and have seen what happens when supposedly "private" or unauthorized recordings are made behind closed doors and then leaked to the general public, either intentionally or accidentally.

It can cost someone their career. It can destroy one's personal reputation. It will most certainly cause one strife with one's friends and family. And as we have most recently seen, it can also cost you a Presidential Election.

If these kinds of devices do become commonplace — and I have no doubt that they will — then there will have to be social rules and norms for their use.

Because they are a wearable tech, and will almost certainly be integrated into regular perscription eyeglass frames, there will have to be some kind of indication (such as a LED "on air" light, or something to that effect) that they are currently recording, and there needs to be "Antiglass" technology to prevent its use by people who do not wish to be part of someone else's lifelogging activities.

I see "Antiglass" as a personal shield of sorts, that emits a radio signal that disrupts the use of Glass within a certain distance unless the wearer is legitimately using the device for law enforcement purposes. "Antiglass" could be integrated into smartphones, smart watches, or even other lifelogging devices as well.

Wide-cast antiglass fields could be set up in establishments, such as private social clubs and places of business, which prohibit the use of lifelogging functions, just as cell phone signal jamming technology is already used (albeit illegally) in some places today.

Obviously, for this type of anti-lifelogging tech to work, there has to be an agreed upon API or programmatic trigger signals that cannot easily be defeated by hackers.

But if it cannot be made to work, or if the effectiveness of the tech cannot be guaranteed, then I forsee situations where people will be forced to remove and surrender their devices in order to prevent the possibility of recording, as well as a change in our culture to be much more careful about what one says, even in very intimate situations.

And that is an Orwellian chilling effect that I think could be very harmful to the development of our society as a whole.

This chilling effect was evident in decades past in East Germany while the country was in fear of the ever-watching eyes and ears of the Stasi, which had perhaps the largest informant and surveillance network of any nation per capita in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, the USSR included. 

For a current take on Orwellian dystopia, look no further than modern-day North Korea, where all of that country's citizens are frightened of being observed by the state, regardless of whether or not the hermit kingdom actually has the resources to do it or not.

Except that it's not the State you would need to be fearful of with technologies like Glass.

With lifelogging, Big Brother could be a recording made by your own best friend when you both went out for drinks, and who then decides to share an off-color joke you made that evening around the office.

Or one from your spouse who decides to upload candid highlights from a family event to Facebook or YouTube without consulting you first.

Will Glasshole culture create a chilling effect on society? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Google, Emerging Tech, Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • The truth shall set you free!

    As long as the digital images are not altered in a malicious manner, I see no problem with Google Glass.

    I actually think devices like Google glass will become, within five years, as mainstream as smartphones currently are - if this class of device can be priced at a smartphone level.

    BTW, I recall taking my iPad generation 1 model to a baseball game only months after it was introduced. Unsurprisingly, I had the only iPad in the stadium but I was surprised to encounter similar antagonistic sentiments to those that Jason described in his blog. I guess I was naive.
    • It always amazes me...

      To run into people who place so little value in their own privacy that they cannot understand, or care why others may value theirs.

      I guess 'Glassholes' is actually an appropriate term after all.
      • Privacy is a relative thing and not to be granted in a public enviroment

        Just like no one (except Neanderthals) currently believe a person has a right to privacy regarding personal emails and text messages, no one should have any illusions to privacy in a public place.

        Citizens of London have been living in a video surveillance ecosystem for quite sometime now. Russian citizens require or desire the use of personal video recording devices when operating their motorized vehicles.

        There are legal benefits for private citizens having the capability to record events in a public place.

        I repeat, only Neanderthals cling to an outdated concept of personal privacy rights in a "wired" internet socially connected society.

        And notice that I only cite examples that are public in nature. Obviously, in environments where privacy is legally protected (lawyer - client, doctor - patient, priest - confessor, ex cetera), use of such recording devices without given consent would violate existing laws or social customs.
        • You may feel different

          If something personal happened to you in a public place. Say you got dumped for example, or found out you were being cheated on or whatever; maybe you got a phone call to say someone you care about died, then some glasshole films your response with you having no way to know they are, and then a couple of days later it's been edited and has 1 million views on you tube. Your friends and colleagues have seen it.

          If that happens to you, and you laugh it off without feeling violated, I'll probably accept your views on privacy. Neanderthals had no idea what text and emails are. The rest of us know that a text message IS private communication, and you are thinking of tweets and facebook status. How would you like your facebook messages emptied out on your wall?

          There is a huge difference what CCTV records and what glassholes record because of what is done with it. Yes computers at GCRM scan your texts for keywords... That's very different to anyone in the world being able to call up your operator and find out that you're having an affair and blackmail you with it.

          Your notions of privacy aren't modern, they're bizarre; a true product of the google generation.
          • You confuse aberrant behavior with accepted behavior.

            Say something personal happened to me in a public place.

            Ok, here is an example. I get my legs blown off at the Boston Marathon. And say, someone posts an edited graphic image of my pain and the personal anguish perhaps of friends witnessing that type of horrific event. (My heartfelt sympathies go out to persons that have actually suffered this loss in recent days.)

            And then, that video is distributed in a public venue (YouTube, Vine, Vimeo - what ever)

            I have no problems with that - on principal. I was in a public place. I became part of history. (Personally, I wouldn't wish to view such graphic images myself. I don't enjoy seeing photos of suffering. For example, the images showing the parents of Sharon Christa McAuliffe moments after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.)

            But I wouldn't condemn ABC, NBC or any other news organization from posting those public video records of the Shuttle disaster or their effects on persons at the scene.

            Anymore than I would condemn the posting of any videos from a personal injury that occurred to me in a public venue.

            The two examples that I cited are the same. If a person wearing a Google Glass video taped my hypothetical tragic event and then posted online those images would be no different than ABC posting images of that Shuttle disaster on national TV.

            A person can't expect to have control over images of himself taken by another in a public place. Period.

            One may argue the morality of posting such images to the public without the consent of the principals involved but that is a different topic altogether.

            By the way, I don't laugh tragedy off. And I'm not laughing at your accusations to that effect.
          • MarknWill is right

            First of all, we're not the UK or Russia who have a tradition of being paranoid surveillance societies that record your every move. I've actually seen cameras on little used country roads on the UK. What's the point of that?

            I've also been to Spain, Italy and France and don't see the extreme level of camera use that I do in the UK. We may heading in the other direction but we're not quite there yet.

            And if you want your blown off legs shown all over the internet by some amateur, that pretty sick. At least the major news organizations do exercise some common sense and practice a level of self-censorship of their own. An immature teen or twenty-something dweeb A-hole might not exercise that level of common sense and post all your gory details for all to see.

            The same holds true with cameras controlled and monitored by the city or a businesses against violent crime or theft. They do have SOME accountability about where they can film and how it is to be used. For example, you won't find cameras in public toilets because there is a level of expectation of privacy in there. Glassholes thrown all that notion out the window and I can see it become a device for peeping toms and perverts.

            And by the way, I don't laugh tragedy off either. Just your sick glasshole notions as to what privacy is all about.
          • Why do you assume I support video surveillance in private locals?

            Have I not gone out of my way in my comments to differentiate my views regarding private and public situations, CaviarGreen?

            BTW, in case you missed this key point, I DON'T support unauthorized video surveillance in ANY private location. I can't make that any plainer.

            As to the Boston Marathon example I cited, I confess to choosing an extreme case to make a point.

            But you should also realize that using that same example, it might well turn out that a public video surveillance camera will supply key evidence that will apprehend the person or persons responsible for that horrific crime.

            I state this again. A person should not expect any notion of privacy in a public place.

            BTW, I viewed video taken by a runner using a helmet cam participating in that Boston Marathon. That video clip shown on national TV recorded the initial moments of one of those bomb blasts.

            However, what would be the difference between a runner filming video using a helmet cam or any hypothetical video filmed by a runner wearing Google Glass?

            The obvious answer to that scenario is there is no difference. I would suspect you might describe that marathon runner as being a "helmetboy" in a similar fashion that you would describe persons wearing Google Glass as a "googleboy" Both are interesting and colorful descriptions.

            I'll make another distinction crystal clear for you as well. I see absolutely no difference in video recorded in a public venue by a professional or an amateur. Video is video, regardless of who recorded it. Aspects of the distribution of that video is another topic for discussion. For example, whether it is appropriate to publicly display certain video images or not. It has been noted that some persons share your "sickness" description to images of that Louisville basketball player's fractured leg bone on national TV. And that it was a "sick" thing to showcase those images on national TV by CBS. That morality point does not change the fact that this basketball player had any reasonable expectations of privacy concerns in that public place.
          • We're not talking about cameras on buildings and streets

            We're talking about a camera on some little jerk's head. Jesus...

            kenosha77a are you really that dense and stupid that you can't see the difference.

            A rhetorical question by the way since I seem to be stating the obvious.
          • It's the difference between somebody who's held accountable

            And somebody who isn't.

            I guess that needed to be spelled out to a dunderhead like you.
          • We are all held accountable for our actions.

            Rightly or wrongly, we are all held accountable for our actions.
          • As long as you remember YOU are accountable too

            Not only are the subjects being recorded accountable for their actions, so are the ones doing the recording. Be aware of that when embracing "life-logging" tech like Google Glass.

            It will be a VERY long time, if ever, that people who make use of this wearable surveillance (ala "augmented reality") technology are considered to be trustworthy people. Some day when the technology can be fit into contact lenses or implants it may be easier to conceal its use, but when such a person is "outed" as a glasshole it will continue to be a problem.

            This technology WILL be abused like so many others--there will be those who use it to film people changing in gym locker rooms, ladies in skirts going up stairs, people who are drunk and doing regrettable things at parties, and so on. This will engender a stereotype of the "creepy glasshole" that will not be easy to overcome. That is the consequence of wearing Google Glasses.

            More subtly, people will never be open and forthcoming to you if you wear such a device, no matter who you are or where you are. People will become aware that it is NEVER guaranteed that you are in a "private place" if anyone there is wearing surveillance tech--even if you are a guest in their own homes. As such, you will not ever get their fully honest opinions and observations, as it cannot be trusted that the information wil remain confidential (even if you are personally trusted the technology cannot be and the info may leak unintentionally).

            As such, go ahead and embrace this particular "progress" if you want, but do not complain about having to be accountable for the consequences of doing so--that is, having your trustworthiness being justifiably discounted by everyone else.
            Mark Hayden
          • Life logging?

            This is not the Truman Show, and you are not Truman. No one wants to record you. We all have the ability to film and record our daily lives right now without Glass. It isn't exactly an epidemic...
          • Ya, and Santa Claus is a comin' to town!

            Get real. We are all held accountable for our actions? Not exactly correct. Many people accused of crimes have never been caught or faced a trial. Many who have commited crimes have gone unidentified.

            Most people afftected by anti social or criminal activity would far rather have never been subjected to it in the first place as opposed to holding someone accountable after the fact.

            All these things make you position of "Rightly or wrongly, we are all held accountable for our actions" somewhat ignorant of some of the most important things at issue in this conversation.

            Not to mention saftey concerns. These are by no means the first kind of "smart" eyewear.


            Similarly minded sports googles, already with legal warnings attached to them about the dangers of wearing while skiing or skiboarding, as in not to wear them, and already those in the know saying "what a joke, everyone knows they are MADE to wear while skiing or skiboarding."

            Google Goggles are certainly not the first on the block to come up with the idea, but those who are already there are laying out the roadmap with plenty of indication of how its going to likely play out.

            There will be legal warnings, people will never pay full heed and problems will occur. Lets hope that Google Goggles dont provide for as much instant danger as wearing smart ski googles while heading down a snowy slope at high speed.
          • Categorically Untrue

            You know as well as anyone who reads the news, there are many many people out there who are NOT held accountable for their actions. For you to state otherwise is either ignorant or deceptive. Corporate executives, government officials, military and law enforcement, Hollywood stars, health care professionals... do you need more evidence? If so, look it up yourself. I'm not about to take a horse who has sewn its mouth shut to a watering hole.

            Furthermore, you completely avoid responding to the type of situation MarknWill postulated. Instead you cherry-pick a completely different situation (Boston Marathon bombing) and proceed to thrash your built strawman. Talk about comparing apples with blood oranges. Here, let's have another look at the situation posed to you:

            "Say you got dumped for example, or found out you were being cheated on or whatever; maybe you got a phone call to say someone you care about died, then some glasshole films your response with you having no way to know they are, and then a couple of days later it's been edited and has 1 million views on you tube. Your friends and colleagues have seen it."

            There are countless examples of people being "shamed" in video mashups and/or "meme" photos. What MarknWill asked of YOU is to suppose such a thing happened to you. How would you deal with being emotionally abused via the internet by thousands of a-holes, and in person by the people who recognize you from the footage?

            [[ Hey guys, look it's Kenosha that dumbass who did the ugly cry when their mate dumped them... hey Kenosha! "I don't love you anymore," ha ha ha! "I never really did, you were just my rebound fling." You gonna get all ugly on us Kenosha? Show us how ugly you can look, ha ha ha! ]]
          • How 'bout using a better example of an everyday event..

            Ok.. so we can all agree that we're often under some sort of surveillance. How about a common everyday occurrence like a show of affection or a disagreement, a tantrum thrown by your child or an embarrassing or humiliating accident. As others have mentioned, in the case of being recorded by public cameras, they are not posted for the general public to see. That is not the case with some "Glasshole" recording you tripping over your own two feet and breaking your nose on the pavement or a disagreement over dinner with a friend or loved one...

            these are huge fundamental differences that you clearly don't understand.
          • I clearly understand your POV.

            Your opinions touch on the morality of those situations but not the legality.

            This is how I interpret your remarks, wasabitobiko. You wouldn't wish those actions you described to be applied to yourself. And, I agree with you. I wouldn't wish my human foibles made public to a potentially huge viewing audience either.

            But what I would prefer or not prefer happen to myself (or anyone else for that matter) is currently irrelevant. It is the "law of the land" that a person does not have a legal expectation to privacy in a public place.

            That being said, I'm not opposed to a new reality that would change that current situation. If laws are passed and if those laws pass the highest (if necessary) judicial level review process than I would abide by those new laws. That's democracy in action.

            On a personally note, I do not watch videos along the likes of "America's Funniest Stupid Human Tricks." Watching another person's stupidity or bad luck or injury caused by such actions has never appealed to me. But that is a personal choice and action which I agree can't be mandated or universally enforced.
          • No one wants to film you...

            so when you trip over your own feet and break your nose, no one will be recording it. Get over it.

            As for the tantrum thrown by a child, I know people who were falsely accused of child abuse while disciplining their child. They would have been exonerated by evidence. I also know of parents that should be locked up for child abuse, and children that desperately need to be disciplined. But none of this evidence would exist even with Glass, because ... wait for it...

            Even though someone is wearing Google Glass, they aren't going to walk around recording video 24/7. It just ain't gonna happen. Get over it. It doesn't have enough storage, or enough battery, and there is no reason to record all of that. If you record 8 hours of video, then go home, it is going to take 8 hours to watch it. You are convinced that people with Glass have nothing better to do than record strangers. Get over it.
          • Not exactly the point.

            Agreed, what you say, I mostly agree with.


            Now lets just envisage every one with a smartphone walking around with their finger ready to go on the record button and holding it out in front of them while they are walking around, pointing it about, ready to start recording at the drop of a dime. What a world that would be. Most people, myself included would get just a little sick of that. In fairly short order. If Im the parents of an astronaut at a launch, or caught up in an unexpected tragic and news worthy explosion at whats well know to be one of the most well covered marathons anywhere in the world…ya, that’s one thing. Ya, I can see your point there.

            But just walking down the street doing what Im doing and maybe getting recorded at any given second by anyone of hundreds of people passing me by without notice, and it could be happening right at the drop of a dime? Nope. Not the same. At all.
          • It's good to have this discussion with you, Cayble

            Jason's blog touched on several key points about potential Google Glass (or similar devices) being used.

            I tried to establish the legality of it's usage in a public place. I believe I cited enough examples to support my position that video surveillance in a public place is a legally sanctioned act irregardless of how that came about - whether thru a private or public agency or whether by a public or privately sponsored individual and, most importantly, irregardless of consequences due to the distribution of such publicly obtained video clips. Note: for the most part, I did not offer an opinion on the morality of such consequences of the distribution of those video images.

            However, once that legal point has been established, other opinions have been expressed concerning the ramifications of Google Glass usage in public.

            Jason opines that some sort of social behavior change must occur in society to accommodate that reality. He envisions a "warning device" of some kind being used to alert individuals in a public place that their actions are being recorded. He also suggests that some new form of technology be incorporated to prevent the video surveillance of a person in public if that person chooses to remain "incognito". He calls that tech an "Anti-Glass shield".

            Speaking about Anti-Glass Stealth tech, if such a thing were possible, I can envision abuses of that tech. For example, concealing a vehicle's license plate or, more generally, concealing the identity of a common street mugger from video surveillance. Or a thousand other abuses of that tech.

            Which brings us to the focal point of this blog and it's talk back comment threads. Jason and quite a few other sane and rational individuals foresee a needed social change to existing social mores or laws governing the concept of personal privacy rights in a public place. The nature of that change is still to be determined.

            I'm not against changing or regulating the interactions of humans in a public place. Laws have been passed since the dawn of time along those dictates.

            If it is found that the abuses of the tech incorporated by Google Glass FAR outweigh the benefits from using that tech, than laws or new technology will be enacted or invented to deal with this situation.

            Personally, I can envision the benefits of this type of tech being greater than it's abuses.
          • You are assuming that all those people

            have nothing better to do than walk around with their fingers on the record button. People can do exactly that right now, but they don't. Just because the device in in the form of glasses, ...they still won't. People don't even talk to their neighbors because they have their own lives to tend to. They will not be recording everything, because they have their own lives to tend to.