Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Google glasses' first privacy challenge: the restaurant test and what we should be talking about

...and it's not even out yet. I read Brian Brushwood's post on someone being attacked for wearing digital eye glasses and the accompany link to the story from the victim with some concern. While I have joked on this, this incident is much more serious. I will let other people talk about the incident itself. I'd like to touch on  the issue of privacy from public spaces.
While it can be argued that there is no privacy in a public space, the issue of privacy in public spaces have been up to now limited participant within that space itself. It means that if we participate in a public space, we can expect there would be no privacy from the immediate people within the public space. But what about from those not within the public space. Does it mean that we forgo all privacy when we walk in public? That we have to be individually identified for the right to be in public? This has been tested by Google themselves when they started gathering images for their StreetView technology. Google now blurs people's faces out and hides facilities based on request. They've even launched a feature that can automatically blurs people's faces in YouTube. Privacy enforcement on the internet is easy to do when there is only one entity involved. But what do you do when people with Google glasses are walking the streets everywhere?

Before someone points out the use of surveillance cameras in public spaces, their use have always been by parties of some authority or have been used in the course of law enforcement or crime prevention. But once it is private citizens against another, the game changes. You have to get releases before you republish images of other people. With the devices like Google glasses you could be recorded or captured more often. As the number of times your images are captured increases, it will mean that the possibility of your images be used without your consent will also increase.
In a world where every phone is a digital camera, this may not seem to be too far a leap but it has to be pointed out that only a really small percentage of those cameras are capturing images at any given time. How often do you use your smartphone's camera to take a picture as opposed to making a call or using an app or even just in your pocket? Compare that to devices like Google glasses whose existence is to capture images and videos. All the time.
What will the etiquette be? Can you ask someone to turn off their Google glasses? Would it be rude to? What if they refuse? Are we coming to a world where you can ask someone before entering a restaurant to take off their hat but not their Google Glasses? In the story that sparked this, the glasses was designed to discard the images it had processed but the result of the scuffle had left the device in a state where the images  were still in the temp directory. Should we be so lucky with other devices?
In reality, this technology is still a few years away from being prevalent. However, we should start the conversation now as to how to deal with their impact on our daily lives and with our expectation of that. And it should start with the distinction of devices for medical vs recreational purposes. I propose the following

  • a standard be set for the processing and retention of images in digital eye glasses. This standard would then be used in the independent verification of devices for adherence to those standards. If the standard says the Class 2 devices are devices that record and process the images within a 5 minute time frame and then discards it, a body or company has to certify that the system actually does that. This classification must also defines classes where the device is transmitting the images to a third party or not. All this will make further distinctions easier. For example an employer may only allow Class 1 devices, devices that records, process and displays using RAM like memory within a 1 minute period, for it's employees to wear to work. This will ensure that once powered off, the device has no record of the images. 
  • an indicator that digital eye glasses are in use, a form of reflective on switch or a dim LED.
  • What forms of eye problems that require the use of the digital eye glasses be considered a disability. This has impact both ways. While it may offer relief to some, it may also deny them of things like driving licences. 
  • a clear indicator or when a device is for medical and when it is used for recreational purposes. This will help avoid situations like the incident in Paris. It will also help enforce existing anti-discrimination laws against people with disabilities. 
If you can think more, I'd like to hear them.

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