Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 3 June 2013

Google Glass - Here's Looking At You

It must be a measure of how successful an innovation is likely to be when people are complaining about it before it exists, or at least is available for use.  By that measure Google Glass is likely to be the most successful innovation we've seen for a long time.

Civil liberty groups have been complaining about the potential for breaching personal privacy with Google Glass since it was launched as a concept, now that the product is apparently being tested live in the US the rhetoric is rising.

I'm a little cautious about the beta testing reports that seem to hit the internet almost daily - some make me think that it is being tested thoroughly by independent users, others make me think the reports are just marketing copy.

Some retailers are saying they won't allow people wearing Google Glass into their premises, to protect their customers.  I guess the fear, and it isn't unreasonable, is that someone wearing a video camera on their head could film customers entering their Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) into credit and debit card readers in-store.  I guess cinemas won't be too keen on Google Glass wearers either, especially as many cinemas are waking up to the wonders of free WiFi - helping customers to steal the latest blockbuster film by providing the means to beam it to the internet isn't a smart move.  Quite how they expect to police customers popping the glasses on once the lights go down I don't know.  My local cinema does make a big thing about having night vision technology, but that's kind of a tradition in cinemas - it's how the ice cream seller shows you her wares in the dark.

What about in the park on a summer's day?  How many of us are going to feel that comfortable about taking the kids for a run around the park if there are men walking around with Google Glasses on?  I mean, if we saw such a person filming the kids with a hand-held video camera we'd either call the police or search the car for a handy entrenching tool to bury the pervert with.  Google might find that customers wearing these devices in any public space might find themselves fending off an irate public. 

So we won't be able to wear them in shops or in public spaces.  Where else won't we be able to wear them?  I'm guessing that at home might be OK, but the spouse may have reservations.  One specific concern being bandied about regards facial recognition.

Google are responding to some of these concerns by saying they won't allow any facial recognition applications to be approved until privacy controls are in place.  That's a strange statement as I can't see any privacy control that doesn't include the tacit approval of everybody who may be recognised facially being in place.  I make that six billion plus signatures, with no dissenters.  That might be a reach.

To be fair, civil liberties aside, I think facial recognition is one of the areas that Google Glass might have a real benefit to society.  I'm sure I'm not the only person to reach mid fifties who struggles to recall the name of people I should be able to recall.  And what about the very real problems with early stages of Alzheimer Disease?  Wouldn't it be great if those struggling with this terrible disease had the opportunity to help them act like the rest of us?  What about bank clerks and shop assistants trying to determine if the person who has presented the cheque is the person it names?  What about the Immigration Officer attempting to spot known terrorists entering the country?

If we're honest, Government agencies are probably designing facial recognition applications for Google Glass as we speak.  No matter what Google say or do I don't think they'll stop this work being implemented in their product.  They may try, but I suggest there's more likelihood of Google paying their taxes to these governments then stopping them applying facial recognition to them.

And what governments do today, criminals will have done yesterday if only because they won't bother with the full project lifecycle.  So government agencies, public and covert, plus any criminal organisation that wants to be able to identify individuals (including those who may be working undercover to thwart them) are going to have access to facial recognition, whether Google wants them to or not.  In fact the only people who won't will be the rest of us, but to be fair once the first few people spotted walking past a public park have been beaten to death by a mob of enraged parents I guess most of us might not actually want to wear the device in public.

Hopefully the persons who get themselves beaten to a pulp by a mob of marauding mothers are actually perverts or criminals and not some government agents working undercover to protect our freedom.


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