Google Glass is a hot topic. This innovative concept is again in the headlines after a glass user was thrown out of a restaurant in Seattle. They didn’t want “glassholes” as customers. He didn’t like to be thrown out and made a public issue of it. This is not the only establishment that dislikes the wearable camera. And some customers are chiming in, they prefer to dine in an environment where they can’t be filmed secretly. But does this ban make any difference? Are we better off without Google Glass users around us? No, not really. Here’s why.
Google Glass is not unique when it comes to privacy. Yes, it’s an innovative concept, but there are many wearable cameras that are designed to be hidden. If someone really wants to film secretly, one of these would be the optimal choice. Not something that you have in the middle of your face and anybody can see. Not to mention that you can film quite discreetly with a mobile phone too. Have they thought about that? Do they search customers for mobiles and hidden cameras? No, they don’t.
And perhaps they don’t care as there would be no PR value in banning old technology. Banning Google Glass can be just a populistic marketing trick. Definitively a well working one in the cases described above, regardless of if this was the restaurant owner’s primary intention or not.
Yes, I have written a lot about privacy and what role cameras play. CCTV surveillance can be a serious threat against our privacy if it is done in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons. But it looks like the Google Glass critics are mixing up two things and applying those arguments to private persons’ shooting. State sponsored surveillance can build up a comprehensive picture of our lives and we have no way to know how it is (mis)used. Shooting and filming private persons can at worst pick some moments and publish them out of context in an embarrassing way. That’s a problem too, but magnitudes smaller than the large CCTV systems.
The debate about if Google Glass is good or evil is missing the point. We should really be talking about photography and publishing, not about a particular gadget. The law varies from country to country, but some basic principles are commonly present. You can take pictures quite freely, at least in public places. You can also publish your work freely as long as it doesn’t hurt others. These principles are good, and applies regardless of if you are using Google Glass or any other kind of camera. We do not have a problem as long as people know these rules, and their rights when confronted with someone who doesn’t. And now we have come to the core that we really should be discussing. How to endorse common sense and lawful behavior when using a camera? People are no doubt shooting and publishing a lot without any clue about the rules. That’s the true problem, not the new gadget.
Footnote: The author is not a Google Glass owner and has actually never even tried them. He is, among other things, a hobby photographer with a deep interest in privacy issues.
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