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.
- Be transparent that wearable technology is being used.
- 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.
- Respect requests for information from anyone that approaches me.
- 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.
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.