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Drop the Glass, Google

Friday, 1 March, 2013

“Don’t be evil.” Heard that one before? Let’s have a quick look now at that famous corporate Code of Conduct: “Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But ‘Don’t be evil’ is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.”

Google cofounder Sergey Brin spoke at the TED 2013 Conference this week and showed off Google Glass, a hands-free, voice-activated augmented-reality headset developed by the search engine. Brin used the presentation to take a swipe at the phone. “We get information by disconnecting from other people, looking down into our smartphone,” he said. “Is this the way you’re meant to interact with other people? Is the future of connection just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass? It’s kind of emasculating. Is this what you’re meant to do with your body?”

That made headlines and his use of “emasculating” provoked intense reaction, but Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good, ignored the frenzy and focused instead on “The Google Glass feature no one is talking about.” And what have we all missed in our gadgetry excitement? Snippet:

Google Glass is like one camera car for each of the thousands, possibly millions, of people who will wear the device — every single day, everywhere they go — on sidewalks, into restaurants, up elevators, around your office, into your home. From now on, starting today, anywhere you go within range of a Google Glass device, everything you do could be recorded and uploaded to Google’s cloud, and stored there for the rest of your life. You won’t know if you’re being recorded or not; and even if you do, you’ll have no way to stop it.

And that, my friends, is the experience that Google Glass creates. That is the experience we should be thinking about. The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience — it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.

Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud — whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between — will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.

If the Google Code of Conduct is “about doing the right thing”, the company should drop the Glass device right now. It has the potential for evil.

Google Glass


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