“The end of privacy as we know it”: Reconsidering public space in the age of Google Glass

Olga Kudina, Melis Bas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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The introduction of Google Glass in 2013 attracted much public attention and initiated a race for the commercial development of mixed reality goggles. Google Glass (hereafter Glass) is a head-mounted display in the shape of eyeglasses with camera that can overlay and augment physical world with virtual information. The device is always present in the user’s field of sight and demands close attention during each interaction. Glass enables online search, personalized suggestions and navigation in real-time. Also, Glass can take pictures and record the surroundings, share and store them online, while not providing clear signals to the outside. While Glass does not allow a continuous recording, “those who wish to can record, rewind and rewatch more of what they see more easily—and where everyone else can end up recorded as part of the process” (The Economist, 2013).
In view of its surreptitious recording capabilities, Glass generated various concerns, primarily related to privacy. Soon after its introduction, “Glass-free zones” emerged on some business premises, where owners considered the video camera embedded in Glass to be a violation of privacy of their clients. Other creative appropriations of Glass included sabotaging the functioning of device by blocking its Wi-Fi connectivity. Even though Google emphasized the privacy-conscious character of Glass as a device providing control over user’s information, privacy appeared as an unattained cornerstone for the societal acceptability of Glass.
Google withdrew Glass for redesign in 2015, only two years after its introduction. However, this does not mark the end of privacy concerns related to mixed reality devices. An updated version of Glass appeared in July 2017, currently available only for enterprise use (Levy 2017). Moreover, camera-equipped devices, similar to Glass, now enter the market of mixed reality glasses (e.g. HoloLens by Microsoft (2015), Spectacles by Snap (2017) and EyeTrack Insight by Olympus (2017)). To this end, the debate around Google Glass and privacy remains relevant. In anticipation of the further integration of mixed reality devices into the daily lives of people, it is important to understand the privacy concerns they generate, their foundation and implications. Glass, just as other mixed reality goggles, can be used in different social scenarios, ranging from face-to-face intimate encounters to the use in public space. Conceived as a locus for socialization, interaction, and identity representation, public space embeds both individual, interpersonal and larger group concerns. Therefore, in this chapter, we seek to examine the impact of mixed reality glasses on the nature of public space, and suggest to turn to Glass as a device with history in this regard.
Philosophically, we rely on the theory of technological mediation (Verbeek 2005, 2011) and the thought of Hannah Arendt (1990, 2013) to understand Google Glass better. The theory of technological mediation understands technologies to be in dynamic, mediating relations with the people and the world (Ihde 1990, Verbeek 2005). As such, people and technologies are not independent of each other, because, on one hand, people design technologies with certain intentions; but on the other hand, these same technologies help to shape the perceptions and interpretation of the world and consequently influence the way people act. The ethical consequence of this is that human values are also not independent of technologies— technologies mediate morality (Verbeek 2011). In the current study, we want to understand how privacy as a value takes shape in relation to Google Glass in public space.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSurveillance, Privacy and Public Space
EditorsBryce Clayton Newell, Tjerk Timan, Bert-Jaap Koops
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781351780193
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2018


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