Is This the End of Anonymity?
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...
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.
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 18 Mar 2013
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