Privacy 'impossible' with Google Glass warn campaigners

Woman wearing Google Glass Widespread use of Google Glass could stifle freedom in civil society, campaigners warn

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Google Glass and other augmented reality gadgets risk creating a world in which privacy is impossible, warn campaigners.

The warning comes from a group called "Stop the Cyborgs" that wants limits put on when headsets can be used.

It has produced posters so premises can warn wearers that the glasses are banned or recording is not permitted.

The campaign comes as politicians, lawyers and bloggers debate how the gadgets will change civil society.

"We are not calling for a total ban," one of the campaign workers called Jack told the BBC in a message sent via anonymised email service Hushmail.

"Rather we want people to actively set social and physical bounds around the use of technologies and not just fatalistically accept the direction technology is heading in," he wrote.

Based in London, the Stop The Cyborgs campaign began at the end of February, he said, and the group did not expect much to happen before the launch of Google Glass in 2014.

Personal privacy

However, the launch coincided with a push on Twitter by Google to get people thinking about what they would do if they had a pair of the augmented reality spectacles. The camera-equipped headset suspends a small screen in front of an owner and pipes information to that display. The camera and other functions are voice controlled.

Google's push, coupled with the announcement by the 5 Point Cafe in Seattle to pre-emptively ban users of the gadget, has generated a lot of debate and given the campaign a boost, he said.

Posters produced by the campaign that warn people not to use Google Glass or other personal surveillance devices had been downloaded thousands of times, said Jack.

Ban sign Stop The Cyborgs wants to spark debate about the use of augmented reality headsets

In addition, he said, coverage of the Glass project in mainstream media and on the web had swiftly turned from "amazing new gadget that will improve the world" to "the most controversial device in history".

The limits that the Stop The Cyborg campaign wants placed on Google Glass and similar devices would involve a clear way to let people know when they are being recorded.

"It's important for society and democracy that people can chat and live without fear that they might end up being published or prosecuted," it said in a manifesto reproduced on its website.

"We are not anti-technology," said Jack. "We just want people to realise that technology is a powerful cultural force which shapes our society and which we can also shape."

In a statement, Google said: "We are putting a lot of thought into how we design Glass because new technology always raises important new issues for society."

"Our Glass Explorer program will give all of us the chance to be active participants in shaping the future of this technology, including its features and social norms," it said.

Already some US states are looking to impose other limits on augmented reality devices. West Virginia is reportedly preparing a law that will make it illegal to use such devices while driving. Those breaking the law would face heavy fines.

In addition, bloggers are debating the influence of augmented reality spectacles on everyday life. Blogger Ed Champion wrote up 35 arguments against the gadget saying it could force all kinds of unwanted changes.

He warned it could stifle the freedom people currently have to enjoy themselves because they know they are being watched.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Why do I feel like this is just a bunch of old timers whining about 'technology' they don't understand.

    I am young, and couldn't give a hoot, who is recording what, when. As long as its not inside my house.

    Outside on the street, photograph me all you want. I don't mind at all. :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    I can see people wearing glasses being refused admission to concerts etc. where the artist has banned photography. Security staff can see and stop someone using a camera, how would they distinguish between Google glasses and prescription glasses? The first generation G-glasses may be easy to spot, later versions are likely to look just like regular glasses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    It's not going to be feasible to ban this sort of device without banning cameras.

    What needs to be done is to create a social consensus where personal surveillance devices are considered rude, uncool and socially unacceptable.

    It needs some kind of negatively-charged nickname for the glasses or those people using them - Ogle Glass / Ogle Goggles / Peeping Creeps / Creeping Toms etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Interesting to see the comments against the device this being rated so positively. Did you not already surrender what little public privacy you had when the camera phone became widespread? The only difference here is that the device is already out of your pocket, you still have to press the side to tell it to listen for the necessary voice commands. Looking forward to getting mine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I can understand why some people would be worried about this, I personally am not - I have nothing to hide.

    If you have a social networking account your information is shared between external sources all of the time - the internet itself is not completely secure as many hackers prove on a daily basis.

    However, I do believe that there should be some restrictions on the device.


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