Google Glass is Watching You: Are You Protected?

by · April 15, 201319 comments

Google is about to augment your reality. Google Glass adds an overlay of rich data to your real-time sensory experience. You can visually index your surroundings, conduct Google searches, capture and share pictures and videos, and even translate your voice into another language.

Amazing? Absolutely. Dangerous? Potentially.

Consider this: you have no right to privacy in terms of where you travel on the public streets. Would you want someone wearing one of these headsets snapping a photo of you entering an adult store? What if someone captures a couple’s romantic moment on a bridge, and it turns out they’re engaged in an extramarital affair?

To be sure, such things happen already, with the advent of smartphones, but Google Glass enhances the AR experience with features including facial recognition. If the amorous couple you photograph using the service is online (and who isn’t nowadays?), they could be exposed publically (pardon the pun) when you share the picture using social media.

The Google Glass user could potentially be called as a witness in court to lay the foundation for the photo’s admissibility. No one has time to become involved in potentially limitless third-party litigation.

Some people refer to Google Glass and similar technology as “Terminator vision,” referring to the way cyborgs from the famous movie franchise see relevant data points pop up about whatever is in their line of vision. I think of it as “stalker vision.”

Smartphones already make it possible for creeps to surreptitiously snap pictures of people, but the facial recognition component affords an immediate and potentially dangerous level of access to information that, even now, can’t be accessed instantaneously.

The facial recognition component affords an immediate and potentially dangerous level of access to information

I liken it to the not so distant past in which mortgages were kept on file at the Registry of Deeds. Your home address, how much you purchased your home for, and how much you borrowed from the mortgage lender was all public information (and still is), but one had to know where to look, and physically go to the Registry of Deeds to find that information. Now, it’s easily accessible via an online search.

Imagine if someone were to see you on a train, scan you with Google Glass, find your name via your public social media presence, then index that name and your current location against public property information. In less time than it takes to get a mocha latte, that person could have enough information about you to stalk you (or worse).

Check your settings on your social networks and disable suggested photo tags, facial recognition, and anything similar. This won’t insulate you from risk, but it’s a good first step.

A somewhat less sensational aspect of potential risk arises in terms of intellectual property. The companies that own copyright in popular films, music and other commodities have been known to sue for incidental capture of copyrighted material that people use in films or post online. In most instances, the copyright owner issues a takedown notice, the offending video or post is removed by YouTube (or Facebook, or Twitter, etc.), and that’s the end of it, but it doesn’t have to be.

The company could sue you for posting allegedly infringing content. Even if you ultimately win (and you just might), the cost of defending a copyright infringement lawsuit is more than the average person can afford, and they settle to avoid the time and money it would take to defend the suit.

Google Glass technology could potentially be used to surreptitiously capture trade secrets

Similarly, Google Glass technology could potentially be used to surreptitiously capture trade secrets or other confidential information. Consider waiting in line at the doctor’s office or at the bank. How much sensitive information do you necessarily reveal in those situations? The safest assumption is that, if you see a Google Glass headset, it’s operational and recording. You may be wrong, but behave as though you’re right. You’ll be glad you did.

These days, it’s nearly impossible to “live off the grid,” even if you wanted to. Many share legitimate privacy concerns, and technology like Google Glass is developing much more quickly than legislation can evolve to address potential misuse.

Short of renting your home and deleting your social media presence, however, the best you can do is to police your settings, disable facial recognition whenever possible, and look up from your own smartphone now and then to see if anyone’s Googling you. If they are, Google them back. At least then you’ll know who you’re dealing with.

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About Kerry O'Shea Gorgone

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, JD/MBA, is a writer, speaker, lawyer and educator. She hosts the Marketing Smarts podcast for MarketingProfs, and teaches New Media Marketing and Marketing Campaign Development in the Internet Marketing Master of Science Program at Full Sail University in Winter Park Florida. Follow her on Twitter: @KerryGorgone

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • startabuzz

    Thanks for this, Kerry. I am ALL for advancements in technology and I’ll admit to being awestruck by the technology surrounding Google Glass. Its benefits, however, are so far outweighed by its sheer ooginess that I can’t stomach the idea of people walking around wearing them. It. Whatever. Aside from the privacy factors you’ve outlined, these have, I think, brought us to a point at which we’re almost … less human. When we’ve reached the point where we have to have full-scale information not just in our hands but in front of our eyes at all times? I think it’s time to take a good, hard look at what we’re becoming. I appreciate your insight here.

    • Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

      Thanks for your comment! It strikes me that this technology will make it difficult to impossible for people to get a fresh start just by moving elsewhere. This will keep neighborhoods safer (e.g. we can see if someone delivering newspapers in our neighborhood is a registered sex offender), but it also might mean that someone with an embarrassing viral video will never be able to outrun it, even if they change their hair and move somewhere remote.

      • Candyce Edelen

        Interesting point Kerry. Your comment here made me think about the witness protection program. Yikes!

  • fatrabbit CREATIVE

    Kerry, thanks for this article. We hadn’t considered the aspects of Google Glass that were a bit more – well, Orwellian. To be fair, this does seems like a slippery slope we all chose to tumble down together when we collectively signed on to Facebook and Twitter, don’t you think?

    • Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

      I agree there will be some normalization, as we saw with camera phones. At minimum, however, I would expect the headset itself to integrate some type of indicator (light, sound or both) alerting people in the vicinity when it’s recording.

  • Dara Khajavi

    I am fascinated by the possible effects of Google Glass. It makes me think of Futurama. In the show, characters experience advertisements like dreams. I don’t know if we will ever get to that point, but it is interesting how life is imitating art.

    • Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

      There are certainly far reaching implications in terms of content delivery, and information versus advertising. (Incidentally, the headset looks like the addictive game from an episode of Star Trek: TNG. (My inner geek is showing.)

  • Jon Stanford

    This argument is null in my opinion. Walk down the street everyone is holding a smart phone that could snap pics or videos of you unknowingly. These are good reasons to not leave your house but not to avoid technology. The only difference is the device is hands free. As with any technology its the users who are responsible for its usage nefarious or innocent.

    • Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

      You raise a great point: smartphones absolutely raise many of the same concerns. The primary difference is the ability to run real-time facial recognition. For the moment, facial recognition is compatible with Google Glass, but isn’t enabled on the headsets currently shipping. However, competing headsets (like the one in development by Baidu in China) will incorporate it.

  • Judith Brower

    This article is well-written, but right now, all any of us can do is scratch the surface (pun intended). We cannot begin to know how this kind of technology will be used for good or otherwise. But here are a couple of my fears:

  • Robyn Hempaz, BC

    Ah! Kerry…whip’n up the excitement like a good atty should…it’s Google Glass this time, heh?

  • Edward Matthew

    I agree with Judith. I feel it will somehow violate the privacy..

    Tech PR

  • Guest

    I do agree with Jon that this argument isn’t that persuading. Invasion of technology is already here and people seem to overreact when it comes to new technologies like this. It really is just a hands free iphone

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  • Dish Notwerk

    Meh. I’m sure people said that radio would do something evil back in the 1910s, too.

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