If you haven’t yet seen Mark Hurst’s piece on Google Glass over at Creative Good, you need to. You really, really need to. A lot of times cool new gadget and service roll-outs mainly just affect the manufacturers and the people with the cash to buy them. Sure, there can be collateral damage – World of Warcraft widows, for instance – but usually the downside isn’t as direct as it is with this latest idea from the Don’t Be Evil crowd. A snip from Hurst’s analysis:
The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them. I’ll give an easy example. Your one-on-one conversation with someone wearing Google Glass is likely to be annoying, because you’ll suspect that you don’t have their undivided attention. And you can’t comfortably ask them to take the glasses off (especially when, inevitably, the device is integrated into prescription lenses). Finally – here’s where the problems really start – you don’t know if they’re taking a video of you.
Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.
Ummmkay, that’s a little creepy. But we’ll adjust, right? Not so fast.
Now, I know the response: “I’m recorded by security cameras all day, it doesn’t bother me, what’s the difference?” Hear me out – I’m not done. What makes Glass so unique is that it’s a Google project. And Google has the capacity to combine Glass with other technologies it owns.
First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google’s own cloud of servers. Now add in facial recognition and the identity database that Google is building within Google Plus (with an emphasis on people’s accurate, real-world names): Google’s servers can process video files, at their leisure, to attempt identification on every person appearing in every video. And if Google Plus doesn’t sound like much, note that Mark Zuckerberg has already pledged that Facebook will develop apps for Glass.
Wait – so now it’s not only taking video of me, it’s linking that video to my name and identity? Yes. Try not to think, for a moment, about all the data that exists on you already – you know, consumer profiles and the like. You don’t surf porn, do you?
Finally, consider the speech-to-text software that Google already employs, both in its servers and on the Glass devices themselves. Any audio in a video could, technically speaking, be converted to text, tagged to the individual who spoke it, and made fully searchable within Google’s search index.
Nervous yet? Keep reading.
Let’s return to the bus ride. It’s not a stretch to imagine that you could immediately be identified by that Google Glass user who gets on the bus and turns the camera toward you. Anything you say within earshot could be recorded, associated with the text, and tagged to your online identity. And stored in Google’s search index. Permanently.
I’m still not done.
The really interesting aspect is that all of the indexing, tagging, and storage could happen without the Google Glass user even requesting it. Any video taken by any Google Glass, anywhere, is likely to be stored on Google servers, where any post-processing (facial recognition, speech-to-text, etc.) could happen at the later request of Google, or any other corporate or governmental body, at any point in the future.
Remember when people were kind of creeped out by that car Google drove around to take pictures of your house? Most people got over it, because they got a nice StreetView feature in Google Maps as a result.
Google Glass is like one camera car for each of the thousands, possibly millions, of people who will wear the device – every single day, everywhere they go – on sidewalks, into restaurants, up elevators, around your office, into your home. From now on, starting today, anywhere you go within range of a Google Glass device, everything you do could be recorded and uploaded to Google’s cloud, and stored there for the rest of your life. You won’t know if you’re being recorded or not; and even if you do, you’ll have no way to stop it.
So, say in five years you’re applying for a job with, I don’t know, Google. You might not remember calling Sergey Brin a fascist motherfucker on May 3, 2013, while having coffee with your best friend and discussing this article. But Google’s HR group remembers. They have the audio (and maybe the video, too). But, but – HR groups would never use that, right? No, of course not. Just like they never ask for Facebook passwords.
Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud – whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between – will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.
Seattle’s 5 Point Cafe has proudly become the first establishment to ban Google Glass. I’m guessing they won’t be the last. I’m also thinking of starting a pool: on what date will we hear about the first assault against a GG wearer by somebody who doesn’t want his/her privacy invaded?
Once again, corporate America is innovating new and improved ways of invading your privacy. Orwell saw the future, only he thought governments would be the culprits. And they certainly will be – expect them to be lining up to purchase Google’s data. And expect Google to find an excuse to sell it to them.
What we need now are equally gifted tech entrepreneurs dedicated to short-circuiting Google and to assuring greater privacy for the citizenry. I actually have a couple of ideas. If you’re a venture capitalist who’s concerned about our civil liberties, drop me a line….