Google Glass in our sci-fi world: Who cares about privacy anyway?

March 16, 2013 | 11:18 a.m.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears Google Glass. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears Google Glass. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Google Glass — Sergey Brin’s video-recording, personal-computing, augmented-reality baby —  has stirred the Big Brother fears.  It seems the more technology advances, the more we live in a sci-fi world, one where privacy is a quaint horse-and-buggy notion.

The ability — and the inclination — to keep information to ourselves seems to be slipping away with each new innovation. The question is: Does it matter?

Award-winning sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer, in a 2002 essay in Maclean’s, seemed prescient about Google Glass.  He wrote of the possibility of an “implant” with a “tiny audiovisual recorder.” The resulting video would be kept at a “centralized facility.” He imagined that such video would bring about a vast reduction in crime.  If everyone’s actions were recorded, “for their eyes only, unless a proper court demanded otherwise,” crime would plummet.

After all, he reasoned, who would dare to commit an assault, murder or rape “if they knew that the victim would have a complete off-site record of the event made by their own implant?”

Google Glass is not an implant, but this wearable tech has caused fresh discomfort with its videotaping ability.

Jon Evans on Tech Crunch said Saturday that “there’s something about being caught on video, not by some impersonal machine but by another human being” that causes people to “go irrationally berserk.”

A Seattle bar recently banned Glass even before its release. The owner of the 5 Point admitted that it was part joke, part PR stunt. But he said patrons at his place “want to go there and be not known” and they particularly don’t want to be “secretly filmed … and put on the Internet.”  The catch? As Forbes reported: The 5 Point, like other Seattle businesses, already secretly videotapes its patrons with surveillance cameras.

Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNeal, famously said in 1999: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

The issue of privacy in a high-tech world is not going away, and we will continue to struggle with it.  Take Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt as an example.  In 2009, he made news when he said: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

News outlets at the time noted that Schmidt had had a strong reaction in 2005 when CNET published personal information about him. The tech website wrote a story about privacy concerns concerning Google as it amassed huge amounts of information about people.  So the site did some Google searches and found Schmidt’s salary, neighborhood, hobbies and political donations.   Schmidt then issued a company gag order; Google reps could not talk to CNET News for a year.

By 2010, Schmidt was cautioning against revealing too much online — “I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.”  He said “we really have to think about these things as a society.”

The Los Angeles Times’ David Horsey wrote last year about Facebook and its timeline, which invites the recording of details — “just a little more information day after day.”

“It is not hard to imagine that humans will eventually have their lives recorded from birth to death on the pages of Facebook. It is a type of immortality, I suppose. But, there will be moments when we long for a place to hide, a refuge where no one is watching what we do and no one is insistently asking to be our friend.”

David Horsey cartoon

— Amy Hubbard

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