Google Glass is the best thing that ever happened to internet privacy – and here's why

Google Glass is the best thing that ever happened to internet privacy – and here's why

Summary: We've just about worked out when it's appropriate to use a mobile phone, but wearable computing will ask a whole set of new questions and we need answers, fast.

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TOPICS: Mobility
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Let's just agree this upfront: privacy is not cool, and it's not sexy. It's the sort of abstract concept debated by earnest activists, policy wonks and dusty professors in dry seminars, with bad biscuits.

That's unfortunate, because working out how our personal information should be protected is emerging as a vital issue in an age when data about us has become a common standard.

Many of us are accustomed to exchanging information about ourselves in return for access to online services, whether that's sharing photos on Facebook or typing a search term into Google.

But wearable computing devices will blur the line between the online world and real life, and make it easier than ever to record and share information about ourselves and others, we urgently need a new set of rules around privacy.

As such, Google Glass is such good news because inadvertently it has dragged the digital privacy debate out of the shadows and forced it blinking into the daylight.

That's because Google Glass is cool, and it is sexy (well, occasionally). It has brought into focus all the unarticulated anxieties around privacy that new technologies are creating.

That's useful because as wearable tech becomes smaller and more common we'll start to forget about it. Google Glass is our reminder to have the debate about privacy before these devices merge ubiquitously into everyday life. 

Wearable computing creates two privacy issues.

Firstly there's the issue of what is done with the information that we generate about ourselves. For example while using an activity tracker to see how far you've run might be a good way to encourage you to hit a particular fitness goal, would you at some future date really want to have to share that information with your doctor or your insurer, even if it could cut your insurance premium?

And what if we don't want to live our lives in accordance with what the algorithm thinks is health — does that mean you should be penalised with higher premiums?

Secondly, devices such as Google Glass are more about identifying and recording the world around us, which poses another set of questions.

The commercial potential of such devices are easy to see — imagine how useful advertisers would find knowing where you look in store, and for how long.

What if they could target you depending on what products you looked at in a supermarket, and chase you with ads for days afterwards until you went back and bought something?

All of this happens online already, of course, as cookies track us from webpage to webpage and site to site and the data that we shed as we roam is collected, collated, analysed and resold to target us better with advertising.

But because it happens online we are somehow more comfortable with it. Wearable technology could bring those some of that online behaviour tracking into real life — if we let it.

Google characterises the early users of Glass as an Explorer Programme and it's just that – exploring where the boundaries are and what we feel comfortable with.

For example, Google recently decided not to allow facial recognition apps for Glass, because of the privacy implications. It's a good example of how the technology is sprinting while our rules about how it should be used aren't even crawling. 

We've already worked out, over time, what's appropriate for other new technologies.

We now mostly know when it's not appropriate to use a smartphone — in the cinema for example. We need to get ready for the wearable computing wave and decide the etiquette for it, too.

Topic: Mobility

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22 comments
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  • Silly

    The question raise by Google Glass are important to internet privacy because Google Glass is the WORST thing that has every happened to internet privacy.
    hayneiii@...
    • I with somebody would fix this.

      Your comment contains words or phrases associated with spam and will not appear on the site until it has been checked by a moderator.

      Is it true that an IT website dosnt know how to fix the above mentioned spam related problems with posting??

      Disturbing if so.
      Cayble
      • 100% agreed

        Can we please fix this? The amount of times my posts get rejected is getting ridiculous. I don't bother any more.
        Ramrunner-5dd3e
    • You so silly, hayneiii

      What Steve means is that, while the existence of Glass is dangerous to our personal privacy (actually, BECAUSE it's dangerous), it's dragged the issue of privacy into the limelight. Now, tons of people are discussing privacy issues and how to deal with them, people that hadn't even considered these issues before.

      Hence, Glass is good news because it's forced public awareness of privacy issues.
      Ndiaz.fuentes
      • This reminds me a moron villain in a movie

        In the movie Die hard villain wants to create a havoc because the system is not perfect and many people are victims. Is that actually helping the people IF Google does not knows it is the responsibility of a ZDNET author to tell people facts but not by supporting it. Google getting worse day by day and it with more products it only consumes our privacy.
        Mac_Win
    • maybe they should just remove the front camera till people get used to it.

      I have a pen somewhere that has a camera in it.. cost 20 dollars and was given to me to make up for a companie's bad service. It's bad because it's really cheap but shoots good HD video from your pocket and nobody has ever noticed it was more than just a pen. (though it does write perfectly if people want to check)

      Glass at least makes it dead obvious that someone with a camera on them might have it pointed at you.
      frankieh
  • Rejecting posts

    Yes, I am still waiting for a post to me 'accepted by a moderator' on another subject. Two days later.

    What a load of horse manure.
    DAS01
    • Yes, and meanwhile...

      ...we still get flooded with those comments saying that [insert random name] wrote a great comment and that he or she is making millions without leaving home thanks to site XYZ that allows you to work from home spamming via Google. ZDnet REALLY, REALLY needs to improve their spam filtering algorithm.
      goyta
  • "That's because Google Glass is cool, and it is sexy"

    Ahhh Steve. Someone REALLY needs to get a life...or grow up.

    And I suppose you are an Apple Lemming as well? Because they make things "cool & sexy"?
    IT_Fella
    • Sexiest thing on the planet Dorknerd!

      Cool and sexy are terms that are the antithesis of this product. I am sure people will be happy to have you around with your goofy glasses with webcams and a microphone in them. It makes everyone feel comfortable and at ease.
      bobfastner
  • Pictures of sexy women in them

    Is the only good thing I've seen so far about them.

    Get to work on the Google panties.

    Your comment contains words or phrases associated with spam and will not appear on the site until it has been checked by a moderator.
    everss02
  • "We now mostly know when it's not appropriate to use a smartphone...

    No, "we" do not. "We" wouldn't sit down next to someone reading a magazine on a park bench, haul out a book of poetry and start reciting it out loud. Yet "we" think it's perfectly OK to haul out a smartphone and start chattering away or playing a video. "We" don't know the rules of common courtesy. "We" have simply forgotten them.
    6502coder
  • I've already set my "Glass rules"

    No one will be allowed on my property wearing Glass. If they refuse to remove their Glass, I will forcibly remove them (not the Glass, the offender).

    There is a world of difference between cookies tracking your onsite activities for advertising purposes (still not right) and being visually recorded during any time you are visible to the world (through a bedroom window, an open door, a car windshield, etc.) My take on this is anyone sporting Google Glass within my view is a potential snoop and will be regarded as a criminal.

    Sure, society will eventually come up with its own rules, but there will always be offenders and people like me willing to bust offenders in the chops.
    Iman Oldgeek
    • And people like me ready to sue you

      for busting me in the chops or anywhere else. You may simply close the door. Any physical assault is just that and makes you a target for law suits.
      Never Use Microsoft Warez
      • Get Real

        A law suit would cost more than you could possibly recover. And you will still have been beaten, and deserved it.
        Seditionist
  • Google glass ban on facial recognition

    What no facial recognition? Why?

    I was run down on my bike by a hit and run driver and had I had Google glass I might have gotten his license plate number. I did get a brain bleed and my memory now stinks. People that I have known for 20+ years have names I cannot recall. If somehow I were to get their faces on Google glass and it could prompt me with their names I would just love it.
    hawc
    • This

      You are the perfect example of what we're costing ourselves by this concern over privacy. Glass - given sufficient privilege to do so - has the potential for great utility purposes. Luckily for us, there's a large community of hardware and software hackers out there. Within a few months of launch, we'll see a jailbreak to allow for facial recognition apps even if it IS locked down.
      Argenteus.CG
  • "Google Glass is cool, and it is sexy"... Ahhh. No, it isn't.

    So far, the Google Glass cool factor is about a 3 on the 10 meter. And if you think white guys wearing Google Glass is sexy... OK.
    Bruizer
  • His concerns sound familiar

    I seem to recall issues like this being brought up in Futurama's episode entitled "Attack of the Killer App". To those who have no idea what I am talking about: go to YouTube and search for the words that I have put in quotation marks.
    Richard Estes
  • You're kidding right...

    Let's see.. It's made by Google using Google Services, It records and monitors everything you see and do. It keeps track of your location. And all this stuff is reported back to Google which is a notorious marketing company that uses your information and data to make money off you. Yeah that sounds like great privacy.

    Not only that and you will look like a hipster douchebag wearing these everywhere.
    bobiroc