Google Glass: Obnoxious and invasive at any price

Google Glass: Obnoxious and invasive at any price

Summary: Products like Google Glass will face numerous adoption challenges because they present issues in any number of social situations where privacy or desire to be "off the record" is most cherished.


Wearable computing has long been part of the holy grail of the pursuit towards integration of information science with human interface devices.

We've seen its use described in popular science-fiction novels and shown in movies and television (like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek") and has been the fodder of futurists for longer than I can possibly remember.

Image: Robert Scoble

There's no question that these devices will be used extensively, particularly in vertical markets for specific types of applications where hands-free computing has distinct advantages, such in the medical and military fields, as well as in breaking news reporting.

But products like Google Glass will face numerous adoption challenges because they present issues in any number of social situations where privacy or desire to be "off the record" is most cherished.

One might ask, why are privacy issues with Glass any different than any other device that can record, such as a smartphone or a miniature tablet?

They are absolutely different. Today, even with cameras on smartphone handsets, recording in certain areas is frowned upon, but at least there is time for the object of the recording to raise an objection and ask for the device to be put away. 

Because Glass is being worn, and might eventually be integrated into prescription eyewear, it's a "stealth" recording device. The object of the recording may not know they've been captured on video until it is too late. And, the device's ability to transmit that footage to the public-viewable cloud nearly instantaneously with a 4G or Wi-Fi connection will make it much more feared than a simple camera with localized storage.

In the "Explorer" edition of Google Glass that has now shipped to celebrity early adopters and developers, there is no indication whatsoever that the subject is being recorded.

Contrary to early reports, there is no LED or light or anything of the sort to alert that a video or a picture is being taken. This might be changed in mass-market versions of the device produced by licensing OEMs, but for now, one should assume that if Glass' 720p 5-megapixel CMOS sensor is pointed at you, you're on Candid Camera.

Glass and similar products that enter the market because of their potential for recording images and video in a stealthy fashion will be unwelcome in any place that people gather and expect some degree of privacy, and new social norms will have to be developed for their use as well as establishment of etiquette for obtaining the consent of those being recorded.

What about prescription versions of Glass? Won't it make it harder to remove them from people in social situations?

First, we're making a very big assumption that Google can get the eyewear industry to cooperate by licensing this technology. Google is probably not going to want to get into the eyewear business because there are too many styles, and people view their eyewear styles as being a very personal fashion choice. 

That being said, the balance of the designer eyeglass frame as well as the prescription eyeglass retail business, as well as the distribution channels for prescription eyewear — with the exception of Costco and Wal-Mart, which are loss leaders in this area — is effectively a monopoly controlled by the Luxottica Group S.p.A, based in Milan, Italy, which generates over €7 billion in net sales annually, based on their last financial statement.

Virtually every design patent for every licensed eyeglass brand you can think of is controlled by this firm. If Google even wants to play in this arena, it will be on Luxottica's terms. If you think Apple is litigious with protecting design patents, just imagine what Luxottica will do if it suspects Google is attempting to intrude on its business.

More than likely, I think that anyone who is serious about using these sort of devices will opt to use contact lenses or elect for corrective laser surgery, and they can simply just remove the device if someone takes offense to it being used.

And again, if Luxottica feels its long-term business is threatened by the device in any way that could potentially lead toward a downward trend in the use of prescription eyewear, God help Google.

For those too squeamish for corrective surgery or contact lenses, a "clip-on" version of Glass is likely to enter the market.

And the potential for backlash?

Well, there's already backlash to Google Glass. The fact that terms like "Glasshole" and "Doucheglass" are being bandied about already means that the general public finds the product and their users to be obnoxious.

There will be Glass-free signs posted in businesses of all kinds. I can certainly see them being banned from any number of public spaces under local ordinances passed which may govern when and where they cannot be used.

They will be prohibited from being used in schools due to concerns over student distraction and possible cheating. Government buildings will almost certainly prohibit them, as will airport security. There will be incidents of "Glass Rage" where people will get into fights over their use.

And there are probably scenarios for backlash we haven't even thought of yet.

Despite the clear privacy issues and challenges that Google will face with the eyewear industry, I do think that these devices will inevitably enter the mainstream, despite restrictions that will be imposed on their use.

If Luxottica feels its long-term business is threatened by the device in any way potentially that could lead toward a downward trend in the use of prescription eyewear, God help Google.

I think there will be an initial surge for prosumers/professionals and verticals at $800 with a mass adoption price point at about $500, with universal adoption at about $250.

That Android runs at the core of Glass is probably a good thing, at least for Google's device. Android is a known quantity when it comes to software development.

However, the type of apps we will see for augmented reality use are likely to be very different than what is used on a smartphone. I expect these to be more of the "telemetry" type apps that are simply extensions of things running remotely on a Bluetooth-connected smartphone, not unlike how current smart watches work.

I believe augmented reality wearable computers are likely to enter the industry by more than just Google, and there will be different ways to market the geotargeting aspects of the technology.

The obvious one will be augmented reality superimposed advertisements that hook directly into Google Ads, but there's huge potential for noise here. 

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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  • At least we can assume

    that we might be being recorded and not do anything bad if we see a person with "the glasses". It will keep people on good behavior and help to more quickly locate criminals like in the boston bombing. In certain private places, there can simply be a sign to take them off. If they are not off, we know it and the person can be told to leave.

    Also, we could have 'reverse' glass to see whose behind us waiting to pounce. This could also be extended to a 360 degree of our vehicles to have a more complete view around us. This will have the opposite effect of those who say it will be worse for driving.
    • It isn't always about "good behavior"

      I am not "bad" or "doing something wrong" because of a medical condition I had no control over being born with. If I can keep it to myself then it is none or your business.

      Because of you and Google, I will be treated like a pariah. I've already lived the life of an outcast because of people's misunderstandings and it cost me in the 5 digit range to have a surgeon reverse some of it. I won't react if you and Google pay me the $10k+ you'll soon owe me.

      You don't think I'm going to be upset at your decision to reveal what I've decided not to? These are things that in the past got people killed, neutered like a dog, put in isolation, or had an ice-pick taken to their brain so all they could do was drool. And that was just in the last 100 years or so and the ice-pick bit was done 40,000 times in the United States with supreme court approval.

      Wearable computing devices like this pose a very real threat to me and millions like me.
      Dave Keays
    • ...or...

      ...alternatively we could all just stay home and masturbate.
      Schla Cter
    • Simply unreal.

      The dream lives on.

      All your ideas are nice, its not going to change the fact people will still not like to be be recorded by Google goggles.

      You can always tell the people who dont get it.

      They just love the wonderous idea of future tech arriving at our doorstep and dont want anything to interfere with idea always is, make 'em sound like they will save the world, how could we resist such a marvelous product right?
    • The government will hate them...

      Upon release, the rampant abuses of power being perpetrated by our own government and law enforcement agencies will start appearing even more often on YouTube and whistle-blower sites. This will cause a huge increase in regulation on these devices to the point where people will just give up on them. I'm sure the government will spin it like the regulations are to protect the public. In reality, they don't want the public to see what they're really doing to U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, they will continue using even more invasive types of surveillance devices against us unfettered.
    • Mind your own business

      Nothing like a fascist asshole who thinks it's his job to keep an eye on me. I see you coming with those things on and I'll pop you in the face, son.
  • LOL

    I used think Scoble as an ....., but this picture proved it to the world. :D
    Ram U
  • Paranoid Delusions

    Wow, and I thought my mother-in-law was bad. Scared of technological advancement much? This is a terrible article, full of animosity towards Google I imagine...judging from the writers employment. Trying to bring out the fear and paranoia that is so easy to feed to the sheep.

    With the world full of camouflaged cameras and high speed information sharing, the issues described are long past.

    And driving...really? You can't see the potential here? How about enhanced driving vision? Objects such as pedestrians and road obstructions could be highlighted and brought to your immediate attention. In the future, I could even see external cameras that could assist with dulled vision due to fog or darkness. Your route highlighted right on the road...I could totally see this going to a HUD type system.
    • Very Different contexts...

      Camera's that are on the street are there to catch bad guys. At least that is the theory. Google glass is about catching you at a moment that you might not consider appropriate.

      When you are on the street you are not going to converse certain topics and do certain actions. In a restaurant those topics that you did not talk about in public become topics, and you might do certain actions. It is about degrees of privacy here. With Google glass all privacy goes out the window. That is and will remain unacceptable.

      Next about enhanced driving, yes that already exists and is brought to you by the cars. The problem with google glass is that it is disconnected from the car. When you tilt your head will the landscape tilt? Google glass will not have the enhanced vision built in, but devices in the car will. Thus when you tilt your head the device does not tilt meaning you become sea sick as the two fields of vision have become disconnected.

      If this system is implemented as HUD like it already is in cars, yeah I agree.

      And finally, do we really want to see Scoble in the shower? No offense on Scoble I knew the guy when he was working conferences for Fawcette and he was then a nice guy. Or how about this picture: Sorry, but this is a picture of pervs! You know that Uncle that you really don't want to hang around because he is creepy...
    • You dont get it at all.

      Its not just one person, or two. You have no idea clearly about anything about society.

      You can sit around and shout about paranoid delusions, but it must be the majority of society.

      But I dont think its so much us as you. You just have no idea.
  • I'd get them at about 1/3rd the price

    And I'd get them just so I could wait outside Jason Perlow's place and then film him surrupticiously. Have some vision man. You don't have any expectation of privacy when you're outside anyway, and for all you know someone could be filming you with a high powered lens from a half mile away and you wouldn't even know it. In that comparison, Google Glass is useless, get over yourself.
  • Actually correction on star trek adoption...

    In Star Trek google glass has been used twice;

    1) Episode in StarTrek NG when an evil race wanted to control the Enterprise through a game displayed by the glasses

    2) Star TreK DS9, Gem'ha'da use it to control their battle ships

    Personally I see Google Glass as evil as Star Trek sees it as evil...
  • How very... High School

    There are always those that greet new and exciting technology like angry little monkeys, throwing poo at that which they do not understand.

    Set aside the misspellings in the article (unforgivable in those that aspire to be professional journalists)... the point of article is rather paranoid and not very forward looking.

    One assume a technology journal wants to be forward looking, but this attempt to make it look "dorky" because... well... you don't like or understand it is not in keeping with what a technology journal's mission / vision / values.
    Mad Scotsman
    • What's with the pretentious... ellipsis?

      No attempt at making Google Glass look dorky is required. They look dorky. When someone wears one, they look like a dork. Look at any picture of someone wearing one. They look like dork.
      • Not so rational guy

        Beauty, ugly, dorky are all in the eyes/mind of the beholder. The line between dorky and cool can be VERY thin indeed.
        • Perhaps because

          You look at that model girl with Google Glass and your mind strip her off the Glass and all clothes? This is how human "vision" works by the way.

          Now, Google Glass could do that stripping for you too, to "enhance" the subject before you. Like, augment an "crocodile" to look like a model you like :)
    • Sorry, but thats the way its going to be.

      Sorry. But true.
  • Now that Jason Perlow hates them....

    I want a pair.
    Royce Cannon
  • I don't know

    Something about Google Glass is wrong for humans. A HUD works because it is in context with the environment, but when something out of context is superimposed over your primary view, it is just plain distracting. Humans don't function this way. That's why there are distracted driving laws.

    I think this is a miss and the breakthrough will come with some sort of holographic projected interface.
  • Agree completely

    Some would like to comfort themselves with the notion that adversity to this technology betrays a fear of innovation. To be honest, Google Glass is not innovative. It borrows old ideas and takes them in a completely predictable direction. True innovation searches for and takes all the objections into account rather than crassly steaming forward just because the technology enables the platform. So miniturization got past the tipping point where you could put your iphone on your head. Are you kidding me? Is this all you could come up with? Software may save this very obvious platform, but it is still a crass and obvious next step. C'mon show some real imagination by addressing the challenges so nicely listed in this article rather than storming off the field with your baseball bat.