While everyone clucks excitedly over the Apple Watch, Google Glass continues to prompt a wave of neo-Luddism, with groups of vigilantes dedicated to neutering, hobbling or destroying the camera-equipped specs. Some might even scream in someone's face to demand their immediate removal, but there are other, more sophisticated approaches.
This week, engineer and artist Julian Oliver announced the availability of a device called Cyborg Unplug; it can be used to kick devices you don't approve of (drones, Google Glass, etc) off your router, and indeed any wi-fi network in the vicinity (although Oliver warns that the latter may be illegal).
Some may cheer this blow that Oliver has struck for our privacy, but in reality his invention doesn't do much. It doesn't stop Google Glass recording footage. The specs can still access the internet through the wearer's phone. And hang on – why aren't said wi-fi networks secured with a password, anyway?
Also, double standards are afoot: Cyborg Unplug is marketed at institutions and businesses ("office, restaurant, school or nightclub") which probably use CCTV to record us as we enter and exit the building. So we rail against a gadget that almost certainly won't be used to compromise our privacy (its main use, after all, is to display information) but fail to throw blankets over the CCTV cameras that do.
This confusion over what's morally acceptable is widespread. We label the wearers of Google Glass as "Glassholes", but happily surrender more information to Facebook than anyone could leach using new-fangled specs. A shopkeeper might admonish a Google Glass wearer, but if covert surveillance was really that person's aim they'd be wearing a less obtrusive brand of camera-equipped glasses that don't indicate when they're recording. Cyclists using helmet-mounted cameras pick up the movements of complete strangers, but they're deemed heroic for exposing bad driving rather than having a book of EU privacy regulations flung at them.
Google Glass: Everything you need to know
Google Glass: Everything you need to know
Think of Glass as having a smartphone on your face. You control it either using voice commands (eg, 'Okay Glass, directions to British Museum') or the touch panel on the right arm (eg, swipe down to go back in any menu). It can shoot video and photos without connecting to the internet but you need to connect to the web via a smartphone or Wi-Fi to use apps (dubbed 'Glassware). Google hopes it's the future (ie you'll be using Google all the time), others think it's just too geeky or creepy to ever take off.
Glass is about as powerful as a mid-range smartphone with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of memory slotted into the right arm of the frame. The prism-style screen has a resolution of 640 by 360 and sound is conveyed either by a bone conduction speaker (using vibrations into your skull) or using an earphone. The camera has a five-megapixel resolution and can shoot video at 720p. There's also a proximity sensor to turn it on automatically when picked up. Engineers have estimated that the innards cost around £100 with Google's R&D accounting for the rest of the cost.
3/6 Glass in the UK
Anyone in the UK over 18 and with £1000 burning a hole in their pocket can buy Glass. It's available online or through Google's London 'Basecamp' - essentially a fitting station to give you an introduction to the technology (that's the LA one on the left, expect London's to be less sunny). Glass has launched with five apps (known as 'Glasware' in the UK) including a running 'audio game', a star map and a news app from The Guardian.
The location of Glass's screen in the top right of users' vision has led to complaints of headaches. Experts say that the display is in one of the least comfortable areas of humans' field of vision (early prototypes put the screen directly in front of the ye but was too obstructive), although Google says that its only a problem for a small number of users: “Glass is designed for micro-interactions, not for staring into the screen, watching Friday night movie marathons or reading War and Peace.”
Google has been keen to market Glass as a fashionable product, placing the device on catwalks and between the covers of Vogue. The company has partnered with Luxottica (owner of the Ray-Ban brand) as well as designer Diane von Fürstenberg to make special frames. Google's own designs are known as the Titanium Series (left) with perscription lenses costing extra. However, this association with the catwalk has done nothing to shake the criticism that Glass - and its price tag - are elitist.
6/6 Using Glass
Google has partnered with everyone from doctors to engineers to show how Glass can be useful - essentially by helping people in high-pressure professions who need hands-free access to information on the spot. However, this isn't an argument for Glass becoming a consumer product. Advocates of Glass say that it takes away a layer between technology and peoples' lives - and while this may be useful some of the time it's hardly a killer application. Besides, having to make a conscious decision to look at our smartphones may actually help us look at them less. If there's no separation between reality and tech, why would ever put the latter away?
"Creepy" is a word that regularly crops up in coverage of Google Glass – I've been guilty of it myself – but this seems to have become an automatic reflex. Last week, a new app that claims to be able to detect the emotions of the person the camera is pointing at was deemed "creepy", but at worst it's a harmless toy (we're pretty good at assessing people's emotions using our own brains, you know) and at best it could be a valuable tool for people suffering from autism. We seem to have lost a sense of proportion; Google Glass has been deemed a threat when in comparison to other technology it's barely a curiosity.
Given the anger it supposedly provokes, you wouldn't be blamed for being fearful of wearing Google Glass at all – but that animosity is almost certainly overstated; Alun Taylor from tech website The Register recently recounted how he wore a pair around Manchester's Trafford Centre for an afternoon and received no harsh words, no uneasy glances. Privacy campaigners might see that as an indication that we're sleepwalking into a surveillance society, but ubiquitous surveillance was normalised long before Google Glass came along.
Hatred of these spectacles seems to be more about raging against "hipster" fashion or corporate power, and while Google Glass is established as the whipping boy for anyone worried about privacy issues, other gadgets that don't announce their presence so obviously will continue to do the actual surveillance.Reuse content