Google Glass Will Not Publish Your Social Security Number

Like many, I plan on purchasing Google Glass the moment it becomes available. I have a feeling the novelty will only last a couple months, but I still want to experience augmented reality. Then, it will probably end up with my Xoom… on a shelf, collecting dust. But, that’s only because I live a pretty boring life, unlike the people in the video below.

I don’t exactly know what to expect yet, but I’m excited. Unfortunately, others are afraid of what they don’t understand. Take for instance an article posted on The Street titled, “Watch Out for Google Glasses.” Right from the start, the author has already misspelled the name of the product. He describes himself as having “… opinions on all things political and technological, occasionally well-informed” according to his Twitter bio. I think it is safe to say that today, he was not well-informed.

Anton Wahlman - Photo courtesy his Twitter bio

Anton Wahlman – Photo courtesy of his Twitter bio

The article goes on to make ridiculous statements, with the most outlandish being that Google Glass will populate strangers’ displays with your personal information, including social security number.

Let’s say that I’m standing behind the counter at a business establishment — bank, fast-food restaurant, airline check-in counter, whatever. My Google Glasses might display the social security number, the general rap sheet, social media appearances, and so on, of the person in front of me.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. Some people will think it’s creepy, though. Can you imagine the bar scene when people start wearing Google Glasses? Within a second or two, you will have all available information about the person in front of you. Some of that information may not be so flattering.

Even if Google somehow could instantly recognize every random person you encounter, they would not provide personal information about them. I would not be surprised to see basic information about friends and family displayed once the product has been available for a couple years, but only from people who are in your Google circles. Even then, it will certainly never show Social Security Numbers. A 3rd party developer puts it well in the comments below his own article:

3rd party developer here (Android and Web-Development background). Posting personal information like SSN would be extremely difficult to do, and illegal without consent of the person who the personal info belongs to.

There are limitations to what anyone can do, especially within the realms of the hardware they have available. Do you really think that Glass is going to have the battery power to constantly scan its environment and constantly upload this information to the internet in order to provide the augmented reality that the author puts forth? There is no way this is a possibility.

Another main concern for the author is being recorded the moment he leaves his house. He seems to think that Google Glass has an infinite amount of storage space and bandwidth, literally recording and uploading a live feed to Google in real time.

Google Glasses will make all social/public interaction highly awkward. You’re on YouTube everywhere you go. A few short months after their introduction, Google Glasses could already be so widespread that you will be on camera once you stick your nose out your front door.

This just isn’t true. If you’ve ever recorded a long event with your cellphone, such as a child’s birthday party or little league game, you’ve encountered the limitations of these devices. Most newer phones only last a couple hours before either the battery is dead or the memory card is full. In short, people will not be recording everywhere they go.

Despite all of this, the author does raise a single valid point: will it be easier for people to record you without permission? When we take into consideration the storage and battery limitations of Google Glass, we understand that it cannot record continuously. Therefore, when you first encounter someone with Glass, they are most likely not already recording.

If they want to start recording at some point, they must verbally say aloud, “OK Glass, record a video.” There will probably be a way to do this manually from the keypad as well. Either way, there will be a noticeable action taking place to warn you. Could someone inconspicuously activate a recording in one room and then enter yours? Of course; it’s always a possibility. Still, I’m no more worried about being recorded next year as I am right now.

I feel that the author could have made a strong argument to show that Google Glass could be used for inconspicuous recording, which could be a serious problem. Unfortunately, he failed to do so, instead spending the duration of the article discussing non-existent, hypothetical possibilities as if they were fact.

Supplemental thoughts: I found one last technology error in the article worth mentioning.

Some people prefer to stay off the grid. They pay cash, they drive a car without GPS, they don’t have a cell phone, and they’re not members of online social networks. They have been able to stay out of most publicly available databases.

GPS is a one way system. Satellites orbit the Earth, transmitting their location and time to the ground below. GPS receivers triangulate position based on the time latency (see: distance) from each satellite. You could live your life “off the grid” and still use GPS; absolutely zero information is broadcast from the receiver’s end.

I attempted to contact the author via Twitter 7 hours before publishing this. If he does respond, I will append his messages here.

Comments

  1. This article is no different from that one mentioned, pick some line from it, make it look ridicules and enjoin thinking who smart you are.. Of course first version will have not so many features, but it’s not impossible and pretty soon you will get some information from g+/facebook or other public source about person you are looking. And saying that gps doesn’t provide any information.. you can laugh all day from this sentence, especially when you know how eager google is to get any available information about anything.

    • GPS has nothing to do with Google. There are plenty of stand alone GPS units one could use and stay “off the grid.” If you read the line I was quoting, he specifically was referring to such units for a car. In the same line, he also refers to paying with cash… Do you believe that people who don’t pay with cash are only doing so with a Google product?

    • The article seems to be a little ‘I just pick the part where you’re wrong’, but it makes a valid point. Lets say glasses are able to fetch info from public source like facebook. You can still control the info the app can get e.g. try my facebook profile :D

  2. I’m with you here. I’m the guy that posted the original comment on Reddit that picked apart the guys BS. You’re right, he did have one valid point. But it doesn’t excuse misinformed reasons he used to support it.

    Original comment – http://reddit.com/r/technology/comments/1978ti/google_glasses_will_impact_societal_behavior_from/c8lg4nz?context=3

  3. The problem with your arguments is that they are about current capabilities. Sure it is limited now, but it likely won’t be limited later. You also underestimate what is possible with current technology. The Looxcie (http://www.looxcie.com/) currently records everything and throws out old data if not specifically tagged by the user (by pressing a button).

    We need to be having the discussion about how we want technology like the Looxcie and Google Glass to be used. Sousveillance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sousveillance) is slightly more creepy than surveillance because the shear number of people recording is going to be a lot higher. Dashboard cams in cars is Russia is a good start for looking at what will happen once these things are widespread. Expect to see a lot of YouTube videos of funny, embarrassing, and important events getting uploaded. The real question is how much control should you have over others recording you and what laws can be used to punish people who act inappropriately (like filming in a locker room),

    Of course, there are also dangers to recording everything. If a child runs around naked in public and your device records it (even in a buffer), you are technically guilty of making child pornography.

    • The article I was debunking claimed that the world would be different by the end of the year. Therefore, the limitations of our current technology are very applicable to the argument.

      As for jumping to conclusions about hypothetical technology that doesn’t even exist… It’s a completely separate discussion than the one we are having here. Furthermore, saying that Google Glass will inevitably lead to less privacy at some undetermined future junction is a very slippery slope indeed.

      • If you think the general public is going to respond to Google Glass based on its current specs rather than its obvious potential, then I think you are sorely mistaken. You are also still ignoring the fact that with current technology it is possible to be always recording (e.g. the Looxcie).

        I do believe that if Google Glass has any market success then you will see a massive backlash. You only have to look at Professor Mann’s recent problems in Paris (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Mann#McVeillance_and_the_Mann-Wassel_Law) to see how the public is primed to react to sousveillance. Nobody really noticed things like the Looxcie because they aren’t easily recognized (the Looxcie looks like a bluetooth headset), but, with Google’s marketing behind it, Google Glass will be well known.

        People are already growing tired of surveillance, but they accept it because they believe that the video is in a small number of hands and that the punishment for leaking things is usually termination (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applebees#Social_media_issue). Sousveillance will have none of those perceived checks.

        Personally, I have been waiting for this technology since the early Nineties when I first learned of the MIT cyborgs (which is how I first discovered Professor Mann) and view much of the reaction to it as Caveman Science Fiction (http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/), but it would be a mistake to think everyone else is going to react favorably to it, especially when we have documented cases of them responding hostilely to even cell phone usage.

  4. My opinion is that you have too many pretentious, self-aggrandized conspiracists reading your blog. You need to travel in better circles.
    But NOT Google circles -that would give everyone access to your private information!! Lol!

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