Before Google sold its first set of Google Glass Explorer Edition glasses, Reluctant Habits published a post called “Thirty-Five Arguments Against Google Glass.” Having walked around wearing Google Glass for more than a week now, I re-read the article with interest, wondering which, if any, of these thirty-five arguments I could say hold true in real life. Some of the arguments are really ‘out there’. Others seemed more plausible prior to wearing Glass than after. Many of the arguments aren’t new or Glass specific. They’re arguments that could be applied to many existing technologies including mobile phones and social networks. Before wearing Glass in public, I had a few concerns about the unknown, but on day eight of living this social experiment in mobility, I’m much more excited than concerned about the possibilities of a future full of Glass wearers.
In this post, I provide a Google Glass user’s rebuttal to Reluctant Habits’ “Thirty-Five Arguments Against Google Glass…”
Argument #1: “It could destroy whatever shreds of privacy we have left.”
The Reluctant Habits post starts by discussing legal concerns around the privacy of videos uploaded by Glass to Google. Privacy concerns with regard to uploading video aren’t a new issue brought to life by Google Glass. These concerns have been around since the early days of smart phones and social sharing.
While it’s true that Glass makes it much easier to initiate taking a photo or video than a mobile phone, it won’t make the privacy issue any worse. To initiate a photo or video on Glass, you must either use a voice prompt or press a button on the device – just like a camera. When a photo or video is taken, Glass makes a noise which can be heard through the Bone Conduction Transducer not only by the wearer but also by those very close by (although perhaps not in very noisy environments). In addition, the reverse of the image or video taken can be seen in the high resolution display (glass block in the front of the device) by anyone standing nearby.
The bottom line is that in the modern internet age, our privacy and trust are in the hands of the tech companies whose services we use. As such, we (the public) must hold those companies accountable for keeping our respective data protected from those who we do not want to see it. And, we should encourage lawmakers to help in the process.
Argument #2: “It will turn the United States into a surveillance state.”
This isn’t a new concern brought to life by Glass. The ability to take photos or videos and upload them quickly has concerned privacy advocates since it became possible to do with mobile phones. Reluctant Habits asks, “But what if you could record and save every moment? And what if all this information could be used to incriminate other people?” The chances of that ever happening are slim to none…
Not only would recording every moment of life be cost prohibitive, but also it’s not technically feasible without a revolution in battery technology. Google Glass operates by connecting over Bluetooth to a mobile phone… Good luck getting anywhere near 12-24 hours out of battery life out of any modestly used smartphone without a re-charge, nevermind one that’s recording video all of the time. I find that while Glass Explorer Edition holds a charge for most of the day, that decreases with a lot of video use, image capture and navigation. The small batteries used in mobile devices including both mobile phones and Glass aren’t good enough to do that and won’t be for a very very very long time (if ever).
Likewise, modern mobile networks are already struggling to cope with the ever-increasing volume of photos and videos being uploaded through mobile devices, and many networks are throttling customers to restrict data. There’s no way these networks will improve to the extent that they allow 24×7 recording by the masses anytime soon. Then, there’s the storage issue…. If someone’s making 24×7 video, someone’s got to store it, and someone’s got to pay for it. The costs and logistics of storing this volume of video as scale would be prohibitive.
Lastly, there’s the issue of data mining. If the masses were recording their lives 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it wouldn’t be feasible for the Government (or anyone else) to mine that much data. I’m not aware of any visual search technology company that could cope (or would want to cope) with ingesting and analyzing that much video, and voice search is also very difficult, particularly at scale. Even if the technology were able to cope, no Government’s pockets aren’t deep enough, nor is the benefit great enough to justify doing so.
Argument 3: “It will hold more people needlessly accountable for easily pardonable activities.”
The article discusses an unfair dismissal: “In 2011, a Georgia teacher was fired for posting a Facebook photo. The crime? Holding a glass of beer in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.” Being let go from a place that doesn’t forgive “easily pardonable activities” (particularly that one) is a blessing in disguise. No one is perfect. Glass will not change the perception paradigm when it comes to photo sharing on the web. Mobile phones and social networks have already done that. It will, however, increase the volume of photo and video sharing, creating more noise to sift thorough and a better data set thorough which to judge what should and should not be considered a pardonable activity. As more people share photos online, “easily pardonable activities,” will continue to become much more easily forgiven.
Argument 4: “It is remarkably easy to steal a pair of glasses”
True. Though it’s also easy to have your phone stolen from your pocket or purse. Stealing glasses from my face would be a lot more difficult (particularly from behind). And, Glass won’t work without your phone, so if someone does steal them, they wouldn’t be able to do anything with them, and as evidenced in the Terms of Service for Glass, Google has the ability to brick your device. So, I imagine they’d be more than happy to brick a stolen pair of Glass.
Argument 5: “It gives Google far more personal information than it needs to know.”
This is an argument against Google, not against Glass. See my last two sentences under Arguement #1.
Argument 6: “It will open new possibilities for online sexual extortion.”
You could say the same thing about mobile phones. There are a-holes everywhere. Glass isn’t going to change that or make people better or worse than they already are.
Argument 7: “It may increase violence.”
I was a little worried about this myself before wearing Glass – especially since, as the post pointed out, a Seattle business banned Glass before it had even launched. However, having worn Glass for several days in a variety of situations, I’m no longer concerned. Most of the people I’ve encountered have been really positive and curious about Glass. I haven’t had anyone go postal on me… at least not yet. I even walked through one of the rougher neighborhoods in San Francisco wearing them.
If someone asked me to take Glass off while I was talking to them, I would. One important part of having a productive two way conversation is ensuring that the person you’re talking to doesn’t feel uncomfortable. Another important part of having a productive conversation is ensuring that you’re not distracted during it. In the last few days, I’ve gotten really good at ignoring Glass when I’m in a conversation… It’s become a bit like ignoring the ads in the side bar of Gmail – very easy to do.
I also understand that Glass is a new product, and with all of the mis-information floating around about Glass, it’s easy to see why at this stage, people might be scared to talk openly to someone wearing it or get annoyed by it thinking I’m also checking email. So, on two occasions this week, when I’ve attended networking events where I’m meeting new people, I’ve done the socially appropriate thing and put Glass around my neck. Inevitably, many of the people I met asked me about it, and at those points, I felt comfortable putting it back on.
Argument 8: “It will discourage personal risk.”
See the second paragraph of my rebuttal to Arguement 1. It’s not difficult to tell when someone’s got their camera out poised to take a picture. When someone is wearing Glass, it’s safe to assume that they’re in the same position. If you’re concerned enough not to do something because someone might take a picture, it’s probably not the kind of thing you should be doing in public.
Argument 9: “We have no idea what health problems Glass will create.”
Unknown risks are always scary when it comes to your personal health and safety. People have been wondering about this issue as it relates to mobile phones for years, and yet science hasn’t been able to prove anything definitively. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a risk. There’s always a risk with trying something new. And yet, some articles I’ve read say there may even be benefits of mobile radiation… If 2010 research from scientists at the University of South Florida is correct, mobile phone radiation might even help “protect memory.”
Either way, further research into the risk / benefit paradigm of mobile phone radiation would be a good thing. I’ve been carrying a mobile for nearly 15 years and working in and around the mobile industry for ~13 putting all sorts of devices to my ear. So, if small amounts of radiation coming from mobile devices does turn out to cause long term health problems, I’m in big trouble… I may as well enjoy being a Glass Pioneer before my health declines.
Argument 10: “It may increase violations of doctor-patient confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.”and Argument 11: “It could be hacked.”
I’ve lumped these two arguments together… Data security is one of the most important issues in the connected world. Glass won’t make hackers hack more. As with any new mobile device, in time, products that encrypt user data and/or aim to protect Glass users from cyber attacks will come in time. The same is true for new laws… Legislation often takes a little bit of time to catch up with new technology.
Argument 12: “It will discourage anonymity.”
I won’t comment on this argument much since it isn’t about Glass. It’s a broader issue about identity concerns and Google+ (none of which I’m seriously worried about). As I mentioned under Argument 1, the public is putting its trust in companies like Google to do the right thing. We must hold them accountable to maintain our trust.
Argument 13: “It isn’t distinct enough from the body.”
Seriously?! Is he kidding? When’s the last time you saw someone wearing a pair of lensless glasses with a camera attached to the front and wondered whether they were born with it? If you asked anyone that’s met me before I picked up Glass what they noticed first about me, they’d probably say my smile, my hair or my eyes. That all changed after Glass… The first thing people notice about me when I’m wearing Glass is Glass. Who knows, one day Glass might get so small that it ships as a contact lens, but then, where would they put the batteries?
Argument 14: “It could give the police far more details about you than you can possibly know.”
It could, but so could using the internet or mobile phones. And, if you’re really hiding things that the police would care about, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Argument 15: “It will discourage kindness and respect.”
See my rebuttal to Argument 6.
Argument 16: “Artists will be held more accountable for material that “offends.””
Is this really a bad thing? See my rebuttal to Argument 8.
Argument 17: “It may kill off what remains of the moviegoing experience.”
I went to the movies the day after I picked up Glass. I turned Glass off before the start of the movie – just like I did with my mobile phone. I also put Glass around my neck so it wasn’t anywhere near my line of sight up to the screen. As with mobile phones fellow moviegoers won’t put up with extraneous lights and beeps during a film. It’s not going to happen. We collectively must hold each other accountable for impolite behavior by politely calling it out.
As for the risk of people filming movies, see my rebuttal to argument #2. And besides, these days social networks (including Google) automatically identify the uploading of copyrighted material and can stop it.
Argument 18: “It will create problems with consent.”
See my rebuttals to #8 and #10. It’s safe to say that conversations in public places were never really private. You just didn’t know who was listening. With regard to the legal issues… The law will catch up with the tech soon enough – particularly if the public demands it.
Argument 19: “Cool places will be outed by boors.”
This is another argument that could be made about pretty much any mobile technology or social network.
Argument 20: “It will discourage people from paying attention.”
See the second paragraph of my rebuttal to Argument 7. If you notice someone checking their Glass when they should be talking to you, call them out on it or stop talking to them, politely walk away, and see if they notice.
Argument 21: “It will turn more strangers into stalkers.”
According to the article, “One of Glass’s big features is the ability to track another person’s location down to the very foot.” That’s false. There is no such application in the feature set. Glass doesn’t even have it’s own GPS. It connects to the GPS on the user’s mobile phone for mapping.
Argument 22: “It will create more cyberbullying and stress.”
See my rebuttals to #6 and #10.
Argument 23: “It could make you more willing to believe lies.”
Glass is a device not a mind melter. It may expose people to more information (some true, some false), but It can’t make people more or less willing to believe lies.
Argument 24: “It will create more needless distraction.”
See #7 and #20.
Argument 25: “It will expand the Streisand effect to an unprecedented level.”
This is no different than mobile phones.
Argument 26: “It could prevent people from discovering themselves.”
It could, but that’s unlikely. Glass is not intended for children. By the time someone has the kind of income it takes to buy both a mobile phone and Glass (even if the price goes down), they’ll probably be well into adulthood and will have hopefully discovered themselves already. If not, perhaps they’ll use Glass to discover new things around them that are interesting.
Argument 27: “It will discourage people from seeking unfamiliar viewpoints.”
Again, this isn’t an argument exclusive to Glass. It’s about Google Hangouts. Glass won’t cause people to ignore different perspectives. People make their own choices about who they pay attention to.
Argument 28: “It could create another place where advertisement takes over our lives”
Not true. Google specifically restricts developers from incorporating ads into their Glassware. If Google wants people to use Glass, they’ll continue this policy and avoid inserting annoying ads that negatively impact the user experience.
Argument 29: “It will create needless competition over who has the most worthwhile life experience.”
What’s wrong with a little heathy competition to make life more exciting?
Argument 30: “It will discourage people from striking up conversations with strangers.””
Glass can’t both discourage people from talking to strangers and encourage stalkers as outlined in #21. If my last week is anything to go by, Argument 30 doesn’t hold water. I’ve had more random strangers strike up conversations with me in the days since I started wearing Glass than I’ve gotten in my whole life. It’s been equal parts entertaining and irritating, depending on who I meet.
P.S. Mind reading is not a feature in Glass Explorer Edition, and I have it on good authority that it will not be in the public release either.
Argument 31: “It could discourage companies from hiring people.”
This argument recycles several previous arguments into a new one. It claims that Glass will put “professional greeters” and “retail employees” out of work and ‘erode customer service,’ since people will be able to get the same information from Glass that they could get from a person. Let’s be realistic – nothing replaces face to face contact with a real live person. Retailers know this. That’s why they use greeters and not just TV screens in the front of their stores. Many retailers like my former client, Sephora, and others now use iPads in the store, but these don’t replace staff. They augment them. Likewise, in my current consulting work with my client, Cortexica, I am talking with tons of retailers about how to bring their Visual Fashion Finder technology to the forefront, and this new technology, like Glass doesn’t replace employees, it gives employees a new set of tools to do their jobs better.
Argument 32: “It will create unfair advantages for online retailers.”
Google Glass isn’t creating unfair advantages for online retailers. Retail “showrooming” isn’t a new issue brought to the forefront by Glass. As the author points out, mobile bar code scanning / price checker apps started this trend years ago. Like it or not, the retail paradigm is changing. Bricks and mortar retailers are competing head to head on price with online retailers, and most of the big guys also have online stores as well. There are distinct advantages to both types of shopping, depending on the user’s needs (i.e. price vs. immediacy, etc.). It’s up to both types of retailer to figure out how to leverage their assets and make new technologies like Glass work to their advantage.
Argument 33: “It could usher in a new form of vertical integration and that does not compensate talent.”
Reluctant Habits writes, “Google survives by controlling the services while its users create the content…We can expect more of the same stinginess with Glass as more viral video stars are proliferated and Google rakes in a greater share than it deserves.” This is an argument about Google’s market position and whether their revenue model is fair or not. This isn’t an argument unique to Google Glass.
This is a much larger topic for discussion, but users of YouTube and other Google products agree to use those services under Terms of Service (ToS). If you don’t like the ToS from a company, you’ve got two choices to voice your concerns – complain and quit the service entirely or complain about the Tos but keeping using the service. Walking often works better than talking, especially when it happens at volume. So, if you really dislike Google’s policies, first complain, and then, if you don’t feel like you’re being listened to, leave.
It’s easy to understand why artists want increased license fees from views YouTube, and equally, it’s easy to understand Google’s desire to keep licensing fees low. It’s about business on both sides. With regard to everyday user generated content, there’s no need for Google to pay people for content when they voluntarily put it up onto YouTube for free. Complaining that users that create their own uploaded content don’t get a cut of YouTube revenue is a bit like saying that TV news organizations should compensate the people they interview during the nightly news because that content ultimately makes it possible to monetize the newscast.
Argument 34: “It will make driving dangerous.”
Glass won’t make driving dangerous. People driving carelessly makes driving dangerous. Google’s Terms of Service for Glass states, “your use of any navigation features is subject to the following navigation disclaimer: Please keep your eyes on the road and obey applicable laws. Do not manipulate this application while in motion. Directions may be inaccurate, incomplete, dangerous, not suitable, or prohibited.” There is no reason to think that Glass will make driving any more dangerous than any other devices in cars.
Argument 35: “It could attempt to erase people in need from existence, as well as serious problems that we cannot ignore.”
This one is another real stretch. It is an argument about Augmented Reality – not about Google Glass. Reluctant Habits sites an article in which the author talks about how in the future it may be possible through AR to erase things you don’t want to see in the real world like, say, homeless people. Let’s be clear. Google Glass allows you to see everything in the real world. It’s not an overlay on top of your vision. It’s a glasses frame with a small, transparent display mounted above the eye, which doesn’t block out the real world but rather gives you information about the real world around you and your life online.