Google Glass is on the way in, and the last of your privacy is on the way out

Imagine the near future. Sometime next year. You, sir, are standing in a public toilet and a man sidles up to the urinal beside you. He nods at you out of politeness. You notice he’s wearing glasses. Then the guy takes out his phone and snaps a picture of you going about your business.

Something approximating a fuss would, no doubt, ensue.

At some point next year, maybe in a public toilet but probably on the street or on your morning commute, you'll see your first pair of Google Glass glasses, the internet for the eyes that are currently with developers but have been given an increasing airing in recent weeks.

You’ll look at them. Everyone will look at them. The wearer will be looking at you. And you’ll stick it in the memory bank, tell the office about it and try and describe it.


But the Google Glass owner? He’ll have been able to record the whole encounter, play it back, download it, upload it, save it.

The toilet scenario, by the way, is not a product of my paranoia but one presented by the tech pundit Robert Schoble, who has a pair and has tweeted, “Yes, I do wear Google Glass into public restrooms. So far, no trouble. Would you?”

Something approximating a fuss then ensued.

The growing interest in Google Glass, and its possibly revolutionary impact on how we wear technology, has been played out against the distant thunder of an approaching storm. The mobile-phone years may turn out to have been only the crossing point between a surveillance society and a self-surveillance society. Privacy, already eroded so greatly, and surrendered so eagerly, is now on the eve of a final pounding.

Many questions have arisen out of Google Glass. There is Google's somewhat ridiculous insistence that having Facebook scrolling across your eyeball will make for better human interaction. There is the coming dominant aesthetic of the first-person view, currently restricted to headcams but which will become overly familiar by the end of 2014.

Style stigma
And there is the question of how quickly people will overcome the inevitable consequence of being tagged as "Glassholes" once they slip them on. On that, I'm inclined to believe that people will drop that style stigma pretty quickly. After all, some continue to wear Bluetooth earpieces. So many wear Beats by Dr Dre headphones even though they leave no room for the rest of their head. They use iPads as cameras, which is like handing over a giant novelty cheque every time you want to pay a restaurant bill.

There will be a similar tipping point at which it becomes okay to wear Google glasses, and to be seen to wear them. But, from the off, the biggest question will be about what people will do with them; what Google will do that data; and how all of that will be managed by society.

Right now, we don’t really know the full potential of Google Glass. Much of that will be in the gift of the apps that go with it, but we know already that it is being sold as a media tool, through which pictures and videos will be taken by a simple vocal command (triggered by the soon-to-be horribly ubiquitous words “okay, Glass”) and automatically downloaded to a folder in the cloud, ready to be uploaded whenever the user wants.

The giddiness must be overwhelming for those who go to great lengths (shoecams, spycams, becoming paparazzi photographers) to get up-skirt shots and the like for their own pleasure or to share with the world. But while that and the privacy of your kids will be the headline scare, even at its most basic, Google Glass and the imitators that will follow will help us become prime agents in a surveillance society in which there are already fewer and fewer shadows to hide in.

There will be attempts to curb it. Already, for example, gyms have no-camera rules for the changing room, which are routinely ignored by people in towels working their thumbs harder than they’ve worked their abs. Google Glass will bring about new signage, new rules and revised etiquette. (“There’s a young man wearing Google glasses at this restaurant, which, until just now, used to be my favourite spot,” as one person tweeted recently.)

There will be a scramble for regulation, as already seen in New South Wales this week; its privacy commissioner has called for action before it's too late.

But this is the preamble, the low rumbles before the storm. Next year we will enter an era in which a person might soon be able to record their entire day. You may be in the cast whether you auditioned or not.