Peering Past Privacy
Even the smallest libraries should be prepared to deal with a big privacy invasion, Google Glasses. Now there are two schools of thought on this issue. There are the people who see it as a very serious privacy issue and those who just want everyone to calm down and talk about the potential of the new technology instead.
While I can be one to be distracted by shiny new technologies, this time I’m very concerned as a library administrator.
But Google Glass opens an entirely new front in the digital war against privacy. These spectacles, which have been specifically designed to record everything we see, represent a developmental leap in the history of data that is comparable to moving from the bicycle to the automobile.
It is the sort of radical transformation that may actually end up completely destroying our individual privacy in the digital 21st century.
The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them. I’ll give an easy example. Your one-on-one conversation with someone wearing Google Glass is likely to be annoying, because you’ll suspect that you don’t have their undivided attention. And you can’t comfortably ask them to take the glasses off (especially when, inevitably, the device is integrated into prescription lenses). Finally – here’s where the problems really start – you don’t know if they’re taking a video of you.
Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.
What does this imply for public places like libraries?
When we tell people that they can’t take pictures of what others are checking out or reading, how is that enforceable?
How does this open use of cameras impact victims of crime? People who don’t want to be found for a myriad of personal and painful reasons?
I do read people claiming that this is not a huge leap forward is privacy invasion. They talk about the fact that phones are now cameras, that tiny cameras are cheap and available, and that this sort of possibility has been around for a long time.
My response to this is that Google Glasses is being marketed and will become the new must-have tech item. They will be a status symbol, something that hidden tiny cameras never have been. A large part of the smartphone and tablet boom is the cool factor. It seems right now that Google Glasses are on the same path to popularity.
This is a dialog that libraries need to be having now, before the first pair of Glasses enters our doors. Do we welcome devices that are always on and always recording? Do we stand firmly against them? Or is there a way that I can’t see yet that would make it possible to allow them and still retain privacy?