Surveillance, Privacy And The Use Of Google Glass

A common concern that is raised in the public sphere is the issue of surveillance and privacy. This issue has raised its head again in relation to Google Glass, a wearable computing device created by google.

Google glass is essentially a portable device built into spectacle frames so that you can film, take pictures, translate and search on the go. It overlays data into a users vision without obstructing the users view. While some are hailing the technological revolution of said google glass, others are becoming increasingly concerned with the potential problems of surveillance privacy issues that are related to google glass.

The concerns around surveillance and privacy are not a new phenomenon. The same debate has been raged around the use of CCTV and police powers to monitor people’s online activity. Many are concerned with how other people’s rights to privacy will be protected through other’s use of google glass due to its potential to gather video, images and other data around almost anything that the user sees.


A major concern with google glass is the intrusive nature of the technology and that it can record or photograph someone without their knowledge or consent. This concern has prompted many to call for those who use the google glass technology to seek people’s permission before filming or photographing. While I understand this concern, it seems that, to some degree that it has been blown a little out of proportion. For example, the main concern repeatedly cited in the media is that someone using google glass could record or photograph someone without their knowledge, and thus cannot provide permission. According to some experts testimonies, after using google glass, claim that this is a difficult thing to achieve. In order to photograph someone, or more specifically record someone, you have to have that individual in the wearers field of vision for a fair amount of time. Take a common concern, again commonly cited in the media, being recorded in a public bathroom by someone wearing google glasses. In order for this to be achieved, the wearer has to stand and stare at you and, for the time being, give a verbal command to begin recording or to take a picture. This, in my mind, would make it fairly obvious if you were being recorded or photographed in a public bathroom.

Other concerns relating to google glass have been captured in a comic sketch by Mashabl and is well worth a look for a more funny take on the issue – (Google Glass: Don’t Be A Glasshole).

But is it actually an invasion of privacy? If it is in the public space then possibly not. Most surveillance systems, such as CCTV, are simply collecting data that human investigators did in the past, but in a more efficient manner. At the end of the day, said surveillance systems do not invade our private homes unless we choose it too. I feel that this approach can also be adapted with social networking. Many claim that surveillance of social networking sites is an invasion of privacy, If an individual has not privatised the data of their page or site, then it is not an invasion of privacy.

I have two main concerns about the use of google glass – the breakdown of communication and the effect on young children.

A major concern for me is the breakdown of communication. I already think that in the modern world communication is at a low point. Yes we can communicate more easily and speedily but it is often through the aid of a computer whether that be via email, text or facebook message. Human verbal contact is vanishing fast. The younger members of my family have been hooked on technology from a young age – they were born into an era where technology is an ‘essential’ part of life. This has lead to some young people, those in my family included, being unable to communicate effectively face to face, not knowing what to say nor how to express it properly. Not only that but they avoid verbal communication on the phone. When one recently went abroad on holiday they telephoned me asking if I could help them with talking to a hotel owner who did not speak fluent English. I questioned why they needed my help, thinking that they would have a language book to help, the response I received was ‘my phone is broken so my translator is gone’…I wonder whether google glass will encourage this reliance on technology to facilitate communication. Personally I was always encouraged by my parents to learn at least the basics of a language, either to be polite in social settings or to help me get by whilst on holiday. Google glass will potentially discourage such behaviours, with the ability to translate your voice.


The issue of technology being involved in communication becomes particularly salient with children. In the description of ‘what google glass does’ it has the caption ‘say take a picture to take a picture’ with the image above being of a child being swung round by (presumably) a parent, taken through point of view perspective. Considering this photo , I wonder how it will affect children communicating with the wider world if the parent spends most of the time with the child wearing google glass so that they can capture a special moment. While it can be beneficial, such as capturing a child’s first steps, I feel it would be a constraint. Not only that but does it not remove a child’s right to privacy if a parent is constantly taking photos without a moments notice removing the option to run away or duck and hide (as I often did). We have already headed that way with parents placing pictures of their children on social networking sites. Pictures of them opening birthday presents, of them playing at the park, sitting in the bath, all without the consent of the child. Now with google glass, if you are to demand the right for people to ask your permission before taking a a picture of you and potentially using it with google glass, then you must afford that same right to children, which will certainly prove problematic for those at the age where talking is not yet learnt.

In our current technological age privacy is not something that we can claim. With access to social networking 24/7 via our smart phones, having the workplace be able to send you emails to your Blackberry, even on your weekends off, privacy is no longer something that we can claim nor afford. People already take our photos and film us without asking and post them up online. If this already occurs, why is it now suddenly a problem with the advent of new technology that essentially does what a smartphone does with the only exception that it is hands-free?


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