Why Banning GoogleGlass Won’t Work and Why We Need a Better Idea

Even before Google’s “GoogleGlass” smartglasses are available to the general public people already talk of banning them in bars, hotels, workplaces and schools. The problem is that they include a camera and it is not always obvious when the wearer is taking pictures or recording video.

People have been able to take pictures for more than a century, but until about ten years ago most of these pictures ended up in shoeboxes, ignored and forgotten. Today pictures can be shared instantly through social media to a global audience so people have become more sensitive about unwanted photography.

When someone takes out a camera or a smartphone to take a picture everyone can see that they are doing it and take action if needed. Wearables like GoogleGlass are different because you can be wearing the device all the time and it is not obvious exactly when you are using the camera.

GoogleGlass isn’t the only eyeglass-style wearable device. Rivals have different features but one thing they have in common is the camera. Vergence Labs' Epiphany Eyewear, for example, looks more or less like an ordinary pair of glasses or sunglasses but conceals a video camera in the frame. You can even share images directly to your Facebook page. They are much less likely to be noticed than Google’s cyberpunk style device.

Banning camera-equipped smartglasses will begin to be more difficult when they start to incorporate prescription lenses and have a dual role. Even if you do ban them it doesn't solve the problem because you can also buy camera-equipped smartwatches like the Samsung Galaxy Gear. Other more discrete wearables like smart rings, necklaces, bracelets and tags are already in the pipeline and we can expect many more to emerge thanks to tiny SIM-card-sized computers like the Intel Edison.

Some of these wearable devices even capture images automatically without any action from the wearer, like the NarrativeClip, a tiny plastic tag you can clip to your clothes that takes a picture every 30s to create a log of your day’s activities.This is great for the owner but not so wonderful for the people around them who probably did not choose to have their lives logged at the same time.

In sensitive locations it is more than likely that you will be asked to leave all devices capable of recording at the entrance, but for bars, hotels and restaurants this is not likely to be practical. The only way to reconcile the needs of the wearer and the other customers’ rights to privacy is to post clear rules about how they can be used. For this we will need some sort of new sign to indicate when recording or live feeds are not permitted. 

At the same time, though, the industry should be working on a social solution – creating a strong taboo against invasive recording. Google’s admonition “Don’t be a Glasshole” is a step in the right direction and if the industry doesn't do this effectively they will have to deal with stricter regulation.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me through my website http://andrewhennigan.com, by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 in Sweden and 0033 6 79 61 42 81 in France.

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