By Clay Turk (@clayturk)
Product Manager | TRUSTe
Let me start by saying I am very excited about the upcoming release of Google Glass, and everything this means for the future of ‘enhanced’ reality (AR was so 2011). I suppose I should caveat this statement and say that my enthusiasm lies not so much in a Google specific version, but the release of this technology to the general consumer.
The idea of being able to walk down the street and quickly identify, route, or share your adventures as you experience them is simply fantastic. However, with this comes an inherent privacy concern; what if I don’t want to be ‘Googled’ when I walk past someone wearing Google Glass? What if I don’t want my location and activities witnessed or potentially recorded by an app or Google itself? How would one opt out?
It is not unreasonable to consider the following to be a common use case; a Glass wearing individual walks into a conference and is able to pull up LinkedIn or Facebook profiles simply by looking at someone. Taken a step further, Government could start wearing Glass to identify people by certain profile types, even picking out “criminals” based on historic data. There are certainly ample benefits to such applications, but I would argue that with these benefits come at a definite cost.
Currently web profiling and targeting only pertains to the device used by the individual, providing the user the ability to maintain an online and offline “persona”. If a user decides they no longer wish to be targeted based on a profile they are able to opt out. Opt outs traditionally being a nullifying cookie which replaces the targeting cookie’s unique ID, resulting in the user either being removed or ignored by that “vendor’s” targeting on that browser/computer going forward.
This seemingly works well for a computer or device, but breaks down when it comes to an individual in the real world. Without a directory to store this information there would need to be something unique and trackable about the individual, a new “cookie”, which from an observer’s perspective, is most likely the face.
Taking this to be true, we are left with a rather interesting conundrum, in that assuming a person could “opt” their face out of recognition, they would inherently need to be identified each time for the device/service to know to block them. The currently recommended solution to this is simply telling the potentially affected party to not participate, but this really only applies for an on-premise video recognition system. How would this work when dealing with Glass apps that record in public spaces or even private property where the owner is unaware if a customer is wearing Glass? What about children? With COPPA finally here, privacy concerns for anyone under 13 are paramount to any online business. Does signage need to go up in our parks or on our streets? Or do we simply accept the situation and allow our right to privacy to shrink that much more.
We certainly don’t want to get in the way of technology evolving, nor do we wish to prevent this technology from becoming widely adopted, but feel we would be remiss for not asking the above questions. For the time being it appears it may take laws and regulation to ensure compliance, at least until people start caring more about their offline privacy enough to force a change.
Our entire lives are quickly migrating to the internet, which makes everything we do, say and experience available for the world to view and comment on. In this way, we are entering a new era, one where the potential reach of technology has far superseded our definition and scope of privacy. I can’t help but give pause and wonder if we aren’t letting our desire for this new technology get ahead of our ability to understand its potentially lasting effect on our lives, both public and private.