My first wearable technology adventures

Over the past few weeks I have started to wear my Google Glass in public. The experiences have been invaluable to my understanding of the privacy implications of wearable technology. My evolving perspective on wearable technology has been somewhat unexpected.

My personal privacy policy for wearable technology

In a previous post I discussed my need to create a personal privacy policy for my use of wearable technology. I settled on a few points:

  1. Be transparent that wearable technology is being used.
  2. Provide verbal notice to those I am meeting with by explaining what I am wearing and how I intend to use it before they ask.
  3. Respect requests for information from anyone that approaches me.
  4. Respect privacy requests from individuals or businesses up to and including deleting any images or videos already taken (the “right to be forgotten”).

Now that I had my policy in place it was time to go out in public.

Taking Glass to dinner

My wife and I were meeting some friends for dinner and Glass was coming along. Our friends are not shy, when we met to go to the restaurant they immediately asked what I was wearing. I explained Glass, gave a quick demo, and off we went to a local restaurant.2_Georges

Upon reaching our destination a small group of 20-somethings came up and asked about Glass. They had heard about Glass, but had never seen it. Most other people we passed looked and / or stared, but respected our privacy.

After ordering our meals we began discussing another restaurant we had heard of but didn’t know much about. Using Glass, I searched for information allowing me to talk reasonably intelligently about the place. My friends thought this was weird. It was interesting that they were more uncomfortable with me being able to retrieve information without reaching for a smartphone than they were with the potential of having their picture published on a social network.

I’ve taken Glass to other restaurants, some stores, and just for walks around the neighborhood. The reactions are  pretty much the same: tech-savvy people ask about the technology, others just look, maybe stare a bit, and move on.

It’s all about the glassware

I have begun to add glassware (or apps) which have gotten me hooked on Glass. It is not hard to see how this technology can be useful in both my business and personal life.

  • I can send and receive messages and emails,
  • I can receive alerts and reminders,
  • I can make and receive phone calls,
  • I can share things with social networks,
  • I can search,
  • I can get directions (but won’t use it while driving),
  • I can track my recreational activities and share those as well.

Letting my imagination run free, there is potential for some very interesting consumer and business applications using wearable technology as a platform. Ultimately, just like a smartphone, each user of Glass will have a unique set of capabilities based on the glassware they install.

Thinking of Glass as just a new user interface

My evolving perspective is based upon thinking of Glass as a new user interface to an existing technology, an enhancement to my smartphone if you will. Like any new enhancement we need to figure out the acceptable etiquette associated with Glass or any other wearable technology.

Establishing the correct etiquette for wearable technology is no different than when mobile phones became ubiquitous, followed by cameras in phones and then smartphones themselves. (Frankly I am not sure we have that etiquette worked out yet.)

For example when I was first using Glass I was constantly looking up and to the right to view the screen. It was very distracting until I got used to the display being there. During conversation people thought I might be checked out and playing with my new, shiny object (I am a guy after all), similar to my following soccer match scores from my brand new smartphone years ago. The etiquette lesson here, sometimes just give it a rest.

Wearable technology and privacy

My perspective continues to evolve, but I am less concerned about privacy related to Glass than I was before I started using the product. I am beginning to view the basic privacy challenges as similar to those associated with existing mobile technology. For Glass, the privacy risks are basically the same as with any Android-based technology.

A simple example of the parallelism can be seen if you consider taking a picture with wearable technology or your smartphone. In both cases an image is being taken of a person with or without their knowledge and consent. In both cases the onus lies with the app/glassware developers and users to decide what is collected, what is shared, how it is shared, and who else receives any information collected.

As I continue to use Glass I am sure my perspective will continue to evolve. There are a number of privacy considerations (and I suggest responsibilities) that a business or individual has as they consider deploying wearable technology. More on this in future posts.

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4 Responses to “My first wearable technology adventures”

  1. It’s not reasonable to regard Glass as an extension of the smartphone because you can access it’s capabilities without others being aware of it. I cannot photograph someone on my smartphone without lifting it up and pointing it at them. In doing so my photographic act is public and those being photographed have an opportunity to object. No such action is obvious with Glass and so secret photography becomes possible, denying others a freedom they previously had.
    Secondly, similarly Glass allows you to access information without others being aware of it, for example to get help while playing poker (technically this is called “cheating”) – see http://www.esquire.com/features/google-glass-tests-1213. This, I suspect, is the reason your friends were uncomfortable with you accessing information while in conversation. Thirdly, Glass passes all data back through Google in a much more profound manner than any Android phone, granting Google, for example, the ability to assess emotional responses to advertising via iris changes. This is not an opt-in feature, but an essential and unavoidable element of the operating system, hence the move by some to root Glass and install a non-Google operating system (http://articles.latimes.com/2013/aug/11/business/la-fi-google-glass-20130811). Have you considered how useful that stream of data would be to the NSA – imagine being able to categorise people in terms of their emotional response to the flag or national anthem, or flagging those with positive attitudes to political issues considered suspect?
    This is not to condemn Glass, but merely to point out it is far from being just a minor extension of the smartphone. Glass is expected to be a game-changer in society. Just like every previous digital invention it will have as many negative consequences as positive. Maybe, just once, we can learn from the past and try to think of the dangers and head them off, rather than expect a utopia and passively wait for the disasters to ruin someone’s life before we take action. I think there is a moral obligation on the part of people who get to experiment with such innovations as Glass to make an effort to search out the possible negative effects when they assess them.

    • Bob Siegel says:

      Thanks for your comments. I must disagree with you about the smartphone not being able to be used without telegraphing your intentions. I submit as evidence that video of the Romney Fundraiser taken during the last election with a smartphone.

      I would further suggest that someone wearing Glass, in particular, is being up front that they have a capability of taking a photo by “lifting”, to use your term, the device for a prolonged time simply by wearing the device. This, as I have experienced, allows others to be aware of their capabilities to take pictures thereby providing those others the time to take whatever actions they feel necessary. This, I suggest, is more transparent than someone quickly lifting a phone, snapping a picture, and walking away. Have you never had a “candid” picture taken of you?

      You point out the ability to access information without someone knowing. I ask you to recall the first time that someone you were talking to pulled out their smartphone to do some research on the web. Did you think they may be reading about you? Familiarity with smartphone technology and etiquette have calmed these concerns and I suspect this same will occur with all wearable technologies over time.

      The other items you mention are important for any consumer to consider when purchasing and using any product. If you do not like the policies and practices of a company, whether it includes cooperation with the government or not, then don’t do business with them and don’t buy their product.

      • Thanks Bob for a thoughtful response. I think the “if you don’t like it, don’t use it” position falls short here. Firstly, people’s concerns are as much about other people using Glass as their own relationship with Google. I may not use it, but if others around me do, it still impacts on me. That’s why we don’t allow people the freedom to run naked through the streets. Secondly, these technologies have a tendency to become essential for modern living. Can I really participate as a full member of a modern society without using either iOS or Android, despite the privacy concerns? Or work in many jobs without access to a for-profit/ad-based search engine? Or use the web without being tracked and profiled by literally hundreds of companies hiding in websites who won’t even tell Congress what they do with the data? (http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/12/data-brokers-wont-even-tell-the-government-how-it-uses-sells-your-data/). It’s like saying “if you don’t like the policies of the electricity companies, don’t use electricity.” No – the appropriate response is not to drop out, but push for change by expressing concerns. And that’s exactly why most public utilities now have some form of regulatory oversight which wasn’t there 100 years ago. In a monopoly market lacking serious competition the normal rules of capitalism in terms of a business surviving on the free choice of consumers no longer apply. The Apple/Google monopoly, with identical business models regarding user privacy, means we no longer have a free market and real consumer choice in digital tech is long dead.

        • Bob Siegel says:

          Clearly we are not looking at the same picture. There is nothing I can inherently do with Glass today that I could not do yesterday without it. In fact many of the things you are concerned about have been done by various technologies from various sources for decades. These technologies, available today are lower cost than Google glass.

          There are other search engines, other platforms emerging, other search engines, and other tools that are alternatives to Apple/Google. If you like their offerings, then utilizing them and making them more mainstream through your usage and support is a different approach you may consider. I guess we need to agree to disagree.