Google Glass: we'll all need etiquette lessons - What happens when we can all record everything, asks Matt Warman
By Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor3:31PM BST 24 Apr 2013
Do you mind if I record you reading this article? Would you mind if I record you every time you read an article? The chances are, if you’re reading this on screen, I could quite easily. It’s likely there’s a webcam in your PC or laptop or mobile phone that could track what you’re doing, and maybe in due course I could change the adverts depending on how high your eyebrows arch. Digital etiquette, however, makes such invasive technology impossible. Hackers, however, do it all the time.
That vision of constant surveillance is the one raised by Google Glass, nonetheless. The wearable computer that Google hopes we will all be wearing like glasses comprises a tiny camera, a microphone and a screen. Our every sight will be augmented with extra information, and everything recorded.
It’s likely, of course, that regulators will want a word with Google before this device goes on general sale, and it’s unlikely that Google would try to justify recording everything itself. But some fearful bars have already banned customers from wearing Glass, before they’re even out. As Google’s Eric Schmidt put it, “We'll have to develop some new social etiquette.
It's obviously not appropriate to wear these glasses in situations where recording is not correct.” And indeed you have this problem already with phones. Companies like Google have a very important responsibility to keep your information safe but you have a responsibility as well which is to understand what you're doing, how you're doing it, and behave appropriately and also keep everything up to date.”
Schmidt glosses over more substantial issues with that word “etiquette”, but he’s clearly also correct: when is the right time to record information, or to learn more about a person you can see? It would be disconcerting to pluck from the air, mid conversation, a nugget from an interlocutor’s LinkedIn profile.
There are practical concerns, too: Google Glass during a pub quiz would be cheating. Google Glass at your local swimming pool would be somewhere between impertinent and illegal. But what about at work, where some might think that such technology keeps employees on their best behaviour? Or out on the street where maps might help? Let's not even consider a public toilet.
In truth, we are already under surveillance a lot more than we notice, by CCTV, by people casually recording things on their mobiles anyway, by software used in the workplace that logs when you’re at your computer. But none of these is quite the same: when should we take our Glasses off?
For now, there are two things to consider: Britons are often too polite to ask anyone to stop doing something anyway. When did you last sit on a bus and hear a request for an iPod to be turned down because it’s deafening half the back row?
But actually, and more important, Glass is an unimaginable future: it uses a technology that will only become more discrete, invisible almost. And it exists currently in the rarefied atmosphere of Silicon Valley. Like mobile phones, it’s likely that it will, eventually, become ubiquitous. As things stand, businesses, couples, friends, clubs, shops and pubs would all probably not be comfortable with that. Our attitude to personalised constant surveillance will emerge on the hoof – at a gallop.