Google's wearable computer, the most anticipated piece of electronic
wizardry since the iPad and iPhone, will not go on sale for many months.
Bu the critics are already in a lather.
glasseslike device, which allows users to access the Internet, take
photos and film short snippets, has been pre-emptively banned by a
Seattle bar. Large parts of Las Vegas will not welcome wearers. West
Virginia legislators tried to make it illegal to use the gadget, known
as Google Glass, while driving.
"This is just the beginning," said
Timothy Toohey, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in privacy issues.
"Google Glass is going to cause quite a brawl."
technology becomes increasingly nimble and invisible, Glass is prompting
questions of whether it will distract drivers, upend relationships and,
above all, strip people of what little privacy they still have in
A pair of lens-less frames with a tiny computer attached
to the right earpiece, Glass is promoted by Google as "seamless and
empowering." It will have the ability to capture any chance encounter,
from a celebrity sighting to a grumpy salesclerk, and broadcast it to
millions in seconds.
"We are all now going to be both the
paparazzi and the paparazzi's target," said Karen L. Stevenson, a lawyer
with Buchalter Nemer in Los Angeles.
Google stresses that Glass
is a work in progress, with test versions now being released to 2,000
developers. Another 8,000 "explorers," people handpicked by Google, will
soon get a pair.
Among the safeguards to make it less intrusive:
You have to speak or touch it to activate it, and you have to look
directly at someone to take a photograph or video of them.
thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new
technology always raises new issues," said Courtney Hohne, a Google
Developers, however, are already cracking the limits
of Glass. One created a small sensation in tech circles last week with a
program that eliminated the need for gestures or voice commands. To
snap a picture, all the user needs to do is wink.
The 5 Point
Cafe, a Seattle dive bar, was apparently the first to explicitly ban
Glass. In part it was a publicity stunt - extremely successful, too, as
it garnered worldwide attention - but the bar's owner, Dave Meinert,
said there was a serious side. The bar, he said, was "kind of a private
The legislators in West Virginia were not joking at all.
The state banned texting while driving last year but hands-free devices
are permitted. That left a loophole for Google Glass. The legislation
was introduced too late to gain traction before the most recent session
ended, but its sponsor says he is likely to try again.
Vegas, a Caesars Entertainment spokesman noted that computers and
recording devices were prohibited in casinos. "We will not allow people
to wear Glass while gambling or attending our shows," he said.
is arriving just as the courts, politicians, privacy advocates,
regulators, law enforcement and tech companies are once again arguing
over the boundaries of technology in every walk of life.
Senate Judiciary Committee voted last month to require law enforcement
to have a warrant to access email, not just a subpoena. The FBI's use of
devices that mimic cellphone towers to track down criminals is being
challenged in an Arizona case. A California district court recently
ruled that private messages on social media were protected without a
"Google Glass will test the right to privacy versus the
First Amendment," said Bradley Shear, a social media expert at George
Google has often been at the forefront of
privacy issues. In 2004, it began a free email service, making money by
generating ads against the content. Two dozen privacy groups protested.
Regulators were urged to investigate whether eavesdropping laws were
For better or worse, people got used to the idea, and the protests quickly dissipated. Gmail now has over 425 million users.
a more recent episode, the company's unauthorized data collection
during its Street View mapping project prompted government
investigations in a dozen countries.
Like many Silicon Valley companies, Google takes the attitude that people should have nothing to hide from intrusive technology.
you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you
shouldn't be doing it in the first place," said Eric Schmidt, then
Google's chief executive, in 2009.
Glass is a major step in
Google's efforts to diversify beyond search, and potentially an
extremely lucrative move. Piper Jaffray, an analyst firm, estimates that
wearable technology and another major initiative, self-driving cars,
could ultimately be a $500 billion opportunity for the company.
the shorter term, IHS, a forecasting firm, estimates that shipments of
smart glasses, led by Google Glass, could be as high as 6.6 million in
Thad Starner, a pioneer of wearable computing who is a
technical adviser to the Glass team, says he thinks concerns about
disruption are overblown.
"Asocial people will be able to find a
way to do asocial things with this technology, but on average people
like to maintain the social contract," Starner said. He added that he
and colleagues had experimented with Glass-type devices for years, "and I
can't think of a single instance where something bad has happened."
incident at a Silicon Valley event shows, however, the way the
increasing ease in capturing a moment can lead to problems - even if
Adria Richards, who worked for the Colorado email
company SendGrid, was offended by the jokes two men were cracking
behind her at the PyCon developers conference. She posted a picture of
them on Twitter with the mildly reproving comment, "Not cool."
of the men, who has not been identified, was immediately fired by his
employer, PlayHaven. "There is another side to this story," he wrote on a
hacking site, saying it was barely one lame sexual joke.
"She gave me no warning, she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate," he complained.
lashed out at Richards, using language much more offensive than the two
men used. SendGrid was hacked. The company dismissed Richards, saying
there was such an uproar over her conduct, it "put our business in
"I don't think anyone who was part of what happened at
PyCon that day could possibly have imagined how this issue would have
exploded into the public consciousness," Richards reflected later. She
has not posted on Twitter since.
© 2013, The New York Times News Service
Google's Project Glass and other augmented reality uses