Lifelogging cameras may be a technology that we need to ban

Lifelogging cameras may be a technology that we need to ban

Summary: Lifelogging cameras offer a way of having greater recall over your personal life experiences, but what they do to the privacy of others may be a step too far...

TOPICS: Emerging Tech
A little device that's good for violating privacy in a big way.

I've wanted a lifelogging camera for years.

Now I've had the opportunity to try one, I'm not convinced they are a good idea at all. In fact, I think we may need to ban them.

The idea of a lifelogging camera is that it's a device you carry on your person that takes a photo automatically every 30 seconds or so. Those photos then act as a record of what you were doing throughout the day.

For me, the appeal was that although I have a good memory for facts and figures, I'm terrible at remembering life's experiences. Being able to peruse a bunch of photos from some random day "n" years ago seriously appeals.

Plus, I'm an advocate of the idea of the "personal digital archive". Given that so much of our lives is now conducted digitally, and given that those digital experiences can be recorded verbatim, why not collect everything include a thousand-odd photos per day of random scenes from your life?


The company behind the Autographer lifelogging camera was nice enough to lend me a review unit.

Reviewing a product in a publication is sometimes a little tricky. There is the old maxim of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all".

In this case, I find that although the product itself is perfectly good at what it does, what it demands of the user is downright awful. I should also say that what I'm about to say isn't unique to the Autographer -- any lifelogging camera is going to reveal the same problem.

The underlying problem of lifelogging cameras is that they essentially demand that you take photos of complete strangers. I would wager that walking up to a complete stranger and deliberately taking a photo of them would make virtually everyone reading this uncomfortable -- yet, that is exactly what wearing a lifelogging camera means.

The Autographer can be worn on a lanyard, or can be worn clipped onto clothes. Other lifelogging cameras work in the same way. Imagine the camera around your chest pointing outwards. Now imagine going into a shop and buying some groceries. As you do this, you're taking photos of other shoppers, and of the people working in the shop.

Is that really something you want to do? You don't know those people. Although they're in public they expect some privacy. All they're doing is getting on with their lives.

So how about this: you go to work. Is it appropriate to take photos of your colleagues? Probably not. What about visitors to the office? What about visitors whose presence at your office would cause embarrassment to some party? How about accidentally taking photos of documents that are laying around? What about if your job is customer facing? In no way can using a lifelogging camera at work be considered appropriate.

Finally then, let's think about being at home. Is your spouse going to want you taking a photo of them as they get out of the shower? Almost certainly not.

When I was wearing the Autographer, I found myself acutely aware that I was wearing it. I was forever turning it around to face me, "muting" the camera. I kept crossing the street to avoid strangers. I felt I had to take it off when at work, or at home, or when out with friends. I found virtually no instances where the device offered any value.

Social rules

When I was discussing the device with my ZDNet colleagues, one of them remarked that "of course [I] would feel uncomfortable -- it's unnatural".

"It's unnatural" is how we can describe every technology that humankind has ever invented. That's what technology is.

Every technology needs some sort of social adaptation in order for it to become accepted. Here's an example: The other day I was watching the last episode of Seinfeld. In May this episode will be sixteen years old. In it, there is a scene where Elaine needs to make a phonecall to a friend whose father is ill in hospital. She chooses to make the call using her cellphone whilst walking down the road. Jerry admonishes her for doing so -- his argument being that the call is too important for a "walk and talk", and that she should wait and use a landline.

Sixteen years on it seems ridiculous that such an admonishment would happen because we've all agreed as a society that the convenience of making phone calls wherever suits is a good thing.

The question is whether sixteen years from now lifelogging cameras would seem less problematic. I sincerely hope not. Before I say this next part, firstly I should say that I'm not really qualified to apply such a label to the technology, and secondly I am personally very bullish about the positive effects technology can have on society as a whole.

Lifelogging cameras have to be a symptom of sociopathy. I say that because it is so fundamentally wrong to willingly invade privacy of others that it has to be so. For that reason, these things need to be banned.


This was supposed to be a product review of the Autographer camera, but for me the whole concept of the device turned out to be so appalling that was really what I had to talk about.

I went into this with a very positive attitude towards lifelogging cameras, and now I've emerged from it hoping that it will never be a technology that comes to pass.

By extension, I'm now worried about wearable technologies that have cameras. A year ago, I wrote about how Google Glass was a lifelogging technology. I've also been reasonably positive that Google Glass would be more of a toehold in normal, non-technologist society than most people think.

I'm now left thinking that Glass and its emulators will go nowhere as both sides -- those wearing them as those being looked at through them -- sense a distaste for the technology.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • It's an extension of human action

    Remember, our brains are supposed to be recording everything we say and do. Gossiping in the moral equivalent of invading someone's privacy akin to "lifelogging and publishing pictures".

    It's not the technology that should be banned, it's the abuse of it.

    So do we ban cars because of drunk drivers? Do we ban knives because of Jack the Ripper?
    • Its a seriously lousy idea.

      Hey..Didn't we already see a little something that must have started out just this way in a little book called 1984??

      And this really is the thing when you read one of these science fiction "future society" stories, you always say to yourself, "interesting story, great moral lessons to be considered, but how in the hell would such practices ever even get a start??"

      Life logging is a massive invasion of privacy for society as a whole. Its absolutely unfair to subscribe to some kind of level of normalcy in a free and open society that would say its a nice idea for huge masses of people to be wondering about taking pictures of everyone and everything they do in sight.

      While you say "whats the harm if they don't abuse it?", that would honestly have to go down in history as the worst iteration of wishful thinking concocted since the human race learned to utter more then the phrase "UGG".

      There has hardly been an invention I can think of that offers so little real utility and enjoyment for the user where there is so much potential for abuse and misuse that could bring significant irritation and even harm to so many. I think second hand smoke would seem like a non issue in comparison.

      In two or three days of selective walking around a clever minded misuser could gather up heaven knows how many photos of unsuspecting individuals and all on a device that we are supposed to be thinking its supposed to be just fine this guy is snapping all sorts of pictures of me and others because hes just "life logging". Sure, you can hide cameras, or quickly pull up your smartphone and "click click click", but its just not the same thing as living in a world where theoretically thousands on thousands could be walking around you and your always conscious of the fact that snap, snap, snap is going on and you know there are now a multitude of pictures of you every day in others possession and all you can do is wait for the day you accidently do something silly or looking idiotic for one of your photos to appear on some anonymous web posting as "the girl whos dress flew up" or "the guy who slipped on the banana peel" or "the guy who stepped in the doggie doo" or "the kid who had his finger in his nose". It goes on and on and on and on and on forever into forever again.

      The potential for abuse is found by multiplying the number of people in the world by the number of people in the world they pass by daily, multiplied by the number of days left in the history of mankind. Its a large number and your number is thrown in the hat several times a day at least every time you walk out the door.

      We all like technology. Ya, its neato and cool and all that there stuff. Right up and until its no longer the automated factory that's making my products cheaper but instead its the automated factory that's put me out of work. And when your dealing with the potential for abuse on this massive a scale I have no problem in saying that this is not a technology that hardly anyone would like a few years after it gained popularity. It would be the invention called "the fist fight starter" after awhile Im sure.

      Here, Ive got the name already for the world most hit on website two years after this thing catches on big, Im going out to copyright the name right now, I know someone will pay a fortune for it in a few years.

      Its called "LIFE LOGGING FAILS". And ya, not just the fails of a life logger, the fails in photos of those he has passed by today, if they like it or not.

      Once on the net, always on the net. Remember that.
  • Stalkers Heaven

    Hands-free automatic picture taking? That'll make documenting someone ELSES life so easy!

    I can say that I would be VERY uncomfortable with the idea that they could do it and have it be not obvious that they were doing so, and unfortunately, you can't opt out of someone else choosing to do something.
    luke mayson
    • Yes, and idiots say "but there are cameras already around..."

      But there are not countless thousands of cameras around on unnamed individuals intentionally and purposely snapping photos endlessly supposedly for completely innocent reasons that are not supposed to make you suspicious because it just a "life logger".

      Guys following you around found to have secret cameras on them, or some moron following you taking a bunch of pictures of people with his iPhone that he dosnt know will raise suspicions, when these things are noticed it creates a hazard for an intentional abuser. A life logging camera will always be explained a way with a "so what? Ive got a clicking camera pointed at you. So what? Its just life logging, its all cool, its common..." And away they go with all those nice pictures of theirs.

      Its an invitation for open explainable and hence unstoppable abuse.

      Security cameras that are part of a buildings infrastructure are accountable, at least almost always for any abuse by employees.

      Mr. X times a thousand walking willy nilly about the street snapping endless photos of who knows who from whatever where ever angles and locations is not accountable.

      Eight people on a street corner, your ridiculous photo shows up on "Life Logging FAILS", the photo appears to come from the angle of those eight guys...but which one and who were they anyway?!?!?

      Ah! Not so easy to track down as a fixed in place security camera is it! And a company with a misused security camera has deep pockets and can be sued! Ah solutions!

      But from the eight Mr. X's on the street corner? Not so much.
  • Privacy, intrusiveness and perversion aren't the only problems.

    One other thing that saves all of us is the thankful ability to forget. If you look at anyone's life, there are a lot of things to remember, but just as many (if not more) that not only we'd like to forget, but SHOULD forget. That includes traumatic events and such as well as stupid teenage moments and such. We grow and evolve.

    Already, one of the things kids need to be taught in the online age is "whatever you do is there forever" so those cute Spring Break selfies and YouTube antics could come back to haunt them when it's time to go job hunting. Likewise, we have an accident, household emergency, work situation, etc. and we need to move on, but if we log it, it is there FOREVER (well, at least OUR forever) and so instead of receding into the background, it will be there for all to see any time they want to look for it. I know the old proverbs about "never forget' and about remembering our history (and in this case "OUR" history) but not being able to "forget" is a very sure path to a mental illness and psychological and societal issues.

    Reminds me of the whole thing in the 1980s with "repressed memories". Many people were torn apart when "psychologists" and "therapists" led children to accuse parents of abuse, relatives of crimes, etc. Of course, later most of that was debunked. But the damage was done. No we should not forget. But there are plenty of times we have to. If we all start lifelogging, that "remembering" could be a few Google keywords away if it escapes, or even not, a few local searches on devices away in the hands of an overaggressive attorney. Not a good situation.
  • We are not communist.

    Cameras are no different than eyeballs. Allowing me to view something, but not allowing cameras to do so makes zero sense. If you're that concerned about privacy, then you shouldn't go outside.

    Yes there are drawbacks... Does the NSA have access to them? Probably. They also know exactly where you are through the GPS in your cell phone that you probably thought you disabled.

    Should everyone use one? No. Should everyone have the option to use one? Yes. Freedom. Enjoy it while you have it. It won't stay for long.

    Then again, America is more communist than anything else these days, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised at suggestions like this.
    • We are not a communist country!!!??

      Are you that big of an idiot? God Im sick to death as hell of politically STUPID people going on about how frightened to death they are of America turning communist. You sound like a hick.

      We are not communist! What a stupid remark. Idiotic. What other country other then America has so little faith in themselves that they have to constantly stand on guard against communism because its just bound to enthrall so many Americans that if they drop their guard America will turn communist in the wink of an eye. Just drivel.

      Want to se just how HUGE an idiot you are/ Look morn, look at your own words!!

      "Cameras are no different than eyeballs. Allowing me to view something, but not allowing cameras to do so makes zero sense"

      Ya, well smart guy, to make use of a photo from a life logger you have to have eyes right???? RIGHT???

      And as you say, "Cameras are no different than eyeballs", your idiotic words, not mine.

      You got eyeballs? If not you don't need a life logger, you have eye balls, according to you cameras are no different so if you got eyeballs you don't need a camera. Big waste of money and only an idiot would buy one if he has eyeballs.

      Case closed.

      I bet you have eyeballs, according to your logic your the kind of idiot who has eyes and would buy one. It will help you from turning communist.

      What a goof.
  • can switch of people capture

    Autographer was based on technology from Microsoft Sensecam, which was original designed for people with memory problems, sports, private events etc. Yes, wearing it in public is invasive. However the device has a heat sensor (the dome) in the front to detect people at close range, so this can be switched to block images of people, if the software is written for this. Device does require people to use good manners in public.
  • A response from Autographer

    Autographer was developed to effortlessly capture those moments in life that you really care about; the ones you have already tried to capture but you find yourself living behind a lens instead of actually experiencing and enjoying the moment – things like weddings, birthdays, dinner parties, your child growing up, a family holiday.

    While life-logging with a wearable camera is relative new to most people, the concept of logging your life isn’t – people have been keeping diaries since the invention of the written word, and the act of recording and reviewing accounts of the past is great for stimulating memories, emotions and connections. People don’t tend to feel the need to write absolutely everything in their diary, just the important bits. Most of us probably still have a load of dusty photo albums tucked away somewhere, too – these special memories can be relived and remembered for years to come, but what about all those other ones that were lost when you didn’t manage to record them?

    Along with the more obvious social usage we’re still discovering a wide range of applications each week that only a wearable camera could have captured. We had one user who was able to find a pair of shoes months after losing them on Christmas day, as he realised he’d been wearing his Autographer so could retrace his steps. We’ve just heard from a magician who loves the device as it’s the only thing he’s found that can capture the look of amazement on people’s faces when he performs his tricks, and there’s a user in Holland who realised how boring his office was for his employees after wearing it for a week at work – he’s rearranged the whole office, creating new open meeting space and encouraging people to spend less time at their desks.

    We’ve seen walkers and climbers who love that they can document their day from start to finish, all the while having their hands free – quite often they’re worn out after walking for miles or climbing a cliff face and the last thing they want to do is find their point-and-shoot and take a picture, but afterwards they always wish they’d captured the moment. New mums and dads (including myself) are using wearable cameras to record those wonderful moments with their children – first baths, first food, first steps – and when they’re older it’s not easy to get a non-posed shot of them smiling naturally (at least with a normal camera). I wish my great-great-grandparents had wearable cameras when they were young – I’d love to be able to see a real account of how they lived, their environment, houses, friends and activities as they actually happened (not as they appear in faded sepia).

    These new wearable devices aren’t necessarily a way of capturing everything about our lives, but a way of freeing people up to focus on truly enjoying the moment and having tangible, real experiences – the end pursuit is not to log one’s life but to make the most of every moment and be able to relive those emotions forever.

    History has a long tradition in scepticism as imaging technologies evolved, from the first time a camera came out of the studio, to the digital camera and the smartphone - but the social good and positive impact has been overwhelming. Having more natural narrative accounts of our lives that are created whilst we’re focused more on living than capturing can only be a good thing for society.

    If everyone spent less time looking at their smartphone and more time talking and engaging with others, if they asked fewer people to say ‘cheese’, if they took more ‘outies’ and fewer selfies, if they all went out of their way to make their lives more interesting, if they all found their long lost shoes – would that really be a bad thing?
  • Just plain creepy!

    It's not about being "natural" or "unnatural," and it's not about the convenience of recording events that may be useful later on. It's about the creepiness of taking pictures of everyone around you without their consent, pictures which may be embarrassing and which can easily become part of the internet's ubiquitous and eternal record.

    Walking up to people and sticking a camera in their face is likely to get you punched in the nose sooner or later, and this is essentially the same thing. Sure, there are (rare) times when this gadget is appropriate, such as on a nature hike, but its principal intended use involves taking pictures of people without their knowledge or consent.

    I don't advocate making these illegal. But I definitely advocate shunning anyone wearing one, and I do think that use of a concealed camera should be illegal.

    With a regular camera, it's usually obvious when someone is about to take a picture, and you can object, and a respectful person will refrain. Most people will agree that taking surprise pictures is a nasty thing to do. But with this device, there is no opportunity to say "Please don't take my picture." It's just always on, always taking pictures.

    It's anti-social, mean, inconsiderate, and just generally creepy!