Is This the End of Anonymity?

Category: Privacy

A new device that's poised to hit the market soon may turn privacy into a relic of the past. No, it's not the local police or the federal government spying on you this time. It could be anyone walking down the street. Read on to learn about the gadget that combines cool with the potential for creepy...

The Rankin File

Google Glass and Your Privacy

It’s worrisome to know that the government can learn everything about you. Offsetting that concern is the high probability that the government really has no interest in learning much about you. But what if anyone you pass on the street can learn everything about you? The probability that your privacy will be invaded approaches 100 per cent. Google Glass raises that much larger concern.

Google Glass is the first incarnation of Project Glass, Google’s vision of “ubiquitous computing” (and advertising, of course). “Glass,” for short, is a set of computerized spectacles that respond to voice commands and display information in the upper-right corner of the wearer’s field of vision. Glass also takes pictures and video on command (“OK Glass, start video”) and can upload those recordings to the cloud. It can send, receive, and display messages. You can search Google for directions, weather, and information about whatever you wish… and potentially, whoever you happen to see.

Earlier this year, Google purchased DNNresearch, a startup that specializes in voice and object recognition technology. Object recognition will, for example, allow Glass users to snap a photo of a building and search for information about the building.
Google Glass and Privacy

Facial recognition is just a subset of object recognition. Google is already invested in facial recognition technology, image indexing, and image-based search. Don your tin-foil hat and consider the possibilities:

You’re walking down the street and pass some Glass-wearer who thinks you’re cute. Or whatever. A mumbled voice command and that stranger knows your name, address, phone number, email address, and whatever else Google can reveal. The snapshot that enabled this search is trivial; and it’s actually quite legal. Far more important is the loss of your anonymity: the ability to be unknown.

A Seattle dive bar has become the first to ban Google Glass, even promising a beatdown to anyone who dares to enter the place while wearing Glass. Such protection can be enforced by private property owners, but at this point no one can protect your anonymity in a public space.

Beyond Embarrassing...

It may be embarrassing to see yourself in a YouTube video doing something stupid, but real damage is limited to people who recognize you. If the video also includes your identifying information, the damage extends to everyone who views it.

Google Glass has the potential to automate “doxxing,” the practice of tracking down personal info using the Internet. Starting with one piece of information (a photo), a clever person could possibly use public sources and free online search tools to learn quite a bit. A malicious person could take it a step further, by publishing (or threatening to publish) that information online, to invite others to harass someone. Now imagine that someone could do all that just by looking at you, and whispering a command into his glassses. Sure, this could be done with a smartphone, but you become much more obvious when you hold up your phone and snap a photo.

Google has announced no plans to take its Project Glass this far, of course. But the company’s stated mission is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Currently, no laws exist that would prevent Google (or a third party) from enabling the scenarios cited above.

Don't get me wrong. Google Glass sounds like it could be incredibly cool and useful. In fact, I'd love to try out this technology. I can imagine it being used for plenty of good purposes. It's coming, whether we like it or not. And I'm sure that this technology will eventually be available in a less obvious form, more like a contact lens.

But it also holds the potential to destroy the trust that enables the most rudimentary interaction between strangers. “Trust” is the belief that you can predict another person’s behavior with an acceptable degree of confidence. If you cannot trust that passersby are not going to photograph, record or "dox" you, then it makes sense to avoid them. We could become a world of hermits.

What do you think? Do we need laws regulating the capabilities or use of Google Glass? How would you respond to someone wearing Glass? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is This the End of Anonymity?"

(See all 48 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

18 Mar 2013

@Trish - Really? Just 'clean up our online presence and avoid giving out too much personal information'?

There's more to it than that. What about any other information that can be found anywhere on the internet about us? What about our medical records...remember that big push by the government to get them online? What about our credit reports? What about our bank accounts? What about anything we've ever done online? The potential for harm is rather great and in my opinion, far, far outweighs any 'very cool factor to it'. This is incredibly frightening.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2013

In christian and other areas of life there is Vox. I have to think "Dox" is the opposite. Of course in different idealogical way.Best regards, john.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2013

Well, so much for WitSec and those trying to stay out of the sight of Ex's who are physically abusive. What about our children? How do we protect them from predators? If it was for directions, info on Places of Interest, the weather, traffic and the like, that would be one thing, but facial recognition; for law inforcement yes, the general public a resounding NO. Love Google, but this goes way to far for my taste and safety.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2013

whoever invents a "jammer", will make a fortune. have a good 1 :) cheers

Posted by:

18 Mar 2013

I have mixed feelings about this type of technology. On one hand, it might seem fun and cool, being able to just speak into glasses and find out information.

However, this is a breach of privacy. What about women living in women's shelters, trying to escape from an abusive relationship? Or couples going through a divorce?

I value my privacy and don't want some crazy person stalking me or becoming obsessed with me.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2013

In this age where technology is surpassing the speed to develop public policy we need to think about the morality of these technologies. We need to pressure our elected officials to make sure private protections are in place. I hope there will be laws put in place to limit its use.

Posted by:

James Orpin
19 Mar 2013

I am fairly certain that there is technology out there that creates an electronic veil. All that is needed is to create that veil in our "personal space". Soon enough, we will ALL be wearing a pair of glasses. hehehehehehehe.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2013

It's frightening. Yes, there is a good side, but how far do we go before all privacy is gone? Our humanity is draining out of us and being replaced by mistrust and fear. If society is headed in this direction, then how will it function productively, particularly with little trust in others?

I think there should be regulations in place on this technology before it gets out of the starting gate. Enough is enough.

Posted by:

Robert Spear
19 Mar 2013

Privacy is a 20th century concept. In earlier centuries, few traveled, so everyone in court was familiar. In this century, everyone will be known -- so we are back to the medieval era in terms of recognition. So I would say that this technology is inevitable -- just get over it: Whatever you do, by yourself, with someone, or in a crowd, will be on YouTube before sundown. So mind your Ps and Qs!

Posted by:

Rich in Kentucky
19 Mar 2013

Should we stop using Google products ? Yes, I'm guilty too ...( Gmail & Google search user ) I've thought seriously about shutting it down but heck, their stuff is excellent !! Honestly, Can we live without Google ? I'm still thinking about it ...

Posted by:

19 Mar 2013

Many of you I agree with. The great thing about technology is that it will always change and be a challenge. The capabilities that Google Glass will have are already out. Maybe this is a good way of reminding people that their privacy is limited. As mentioned previously
the person who developes a "jammer" will be very much thanked.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2013

Gavin said: So relax. There are roughly 7 billion people on Earth, which makes your chances of someone targeting you roughly 7 billion to one.

This could only be written by a man. Almost every women knows that she can be targeted - for stalking, rape, or harassment. Women know that they don't have to be rich or famous (or even young and pretty) to be targeted.

Google Glass is a scary idea - for all of us.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2013

I think it's darn scarey to even contemplate strangers getting personal information about you as you pass them on the street. We will have to wait and see how this plays out. It could cause a LOT of problems.

Posted by:

20 Mar 2013

For anyone who wants to use a private search engine, go to "" They pull the info from google but do not register the searches that you make.

Posted by:

20 Mar 2013

We should be worrying; not about technology but about companies like google who pursue tech in the name of advancement but with a bottomline of business and money. No good can come from such motives. We should stop saying tech will come whether we like it or not. Instead we should think tech will come based on what we like or dont like. This choice should not be left to those who are looking at business prospects.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerome, don't quit your day job. Stand-up comedy is definitely not your strong suit. You think "tech will come based on what we like"? How? Magically? Or from some beneficent genius who works for free? Can you give an example of some useful technology that sprang forth in such a manner?

NEWSFLASH: The profit motive is not evil. It inspires invention, drives innovation, funds research, and ultimately results in things like lightbulbs, automobiles, airplanes, cures for disease, and computers.

Posted by:

Lin D
20 Mar 2013

Read David Brin's "Earth" for a good view of where this might go.

Posted by:

21 Mar 2013

It is scary that the US Government and even private companies can legally invade your privacy. Our politicians don't even consider this an issue especially when the Government is also involved in data mining and keeping tabs on people! We need laws to protect our privacy before we lose all our privacy. Facebook, Google, and many other companies are making millions off of all the data they collect on users and in a lot of cases people have no idea what information they are collecting from them and sharing. Google Glass is creepy!

Posted by:

21 Mar 2013

Aside from speculating about strangers with Google Glass looking at us and doing what you discussed, the political implications are even worse. No doubt the next presidential campaign would become an art of war aiming to totally destroy alternative views in congress. The implications of that may be as horrific as can be imagined.

Posted by:

James Orpin
22 Mar 2013

Just a little note: BIG BROTHER "can" read your watch's manufacture's name from "OUTTER SPACE". They just don't publicly display that info. These glasses will, to the viewer. There are soooo many advantages of having a pair. Ultimately, all technology is abused. You can't regulate what you don't control. If you try, Thats not freedom. Someone, somewhere, will eventually use this technology. We just need a cost effective balance of power. We all use gasoline but don't control how it is used. The "WORLD" does. So we buy high mileage vehicles. Yeah! that worked.
In the U.S.A. we are sheltered from the world. Most countries are already dealing with something long before we hear about it. And when we hear about it, we go "WHAAA". Well, call a "Waaaambulance. Americans are so naive. We think we are the greatest, maybe we are, but most Americans have no clue as to what is actually going on in the world. We as Americans need to get back to being "INVOLVED". Mouth shut, Eyes and Ears Open. Pay attention and do not be soooo surprised.
Thanks to BOB, we get a heads-up. Act on the info, not re-act. Do something positive, don't wait for someone to do it for you. If you don't know what or how .... Goggle it.

OK, thats some of my rant. Thank You very much.

Posted by:

Dave B
07 Jun 2013

Old news, what I would like to know is how about helmet/headset with surround and goggles that replace mouse movement for 360 degree shooting movement in games, in other words, virtual reality headset for both gamers and TV viewing as well.
I would make a major investment in the company that can put all that together. I know they're working on a pair of glasses to watch TV on without a monitor, I just don't know who yet. Does anyone??

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