Google Glass, Wearable Surveillance and Low Tech Disruption

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has an excellent op-ed on CNN.com today: “Google Glass, the Beginning of Wearable Surveillance

Imagine a world in which every major company in America flew hundreds of thousands of drones overhead, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, collecting data on what Americans were doing down below. It’s a chilling thought that would engender howls of outrage.

Now imagine that millions of Americans walk around each day wearing the equivalent of a drone on their head: a device capable of capturing video and audio recordings of everything that happens around them. And imagine that these devices upload the data to large-scale commercial enterprises that are able to collect the recordings from each and every American and integrate them together to form a minute-by-minute tracking of the activities of millions.

That is almost precisely the vision of the future that lies directly ahead of us. Not, of course, with wearable drones but with wearable Internet-connected equipment. This new technology — whether in the form of glasses or watches — may unobtrusively capture video data in real time, store it in the cloud and allow for it to be analyzed.

It’s quite a relief to see that we’re not the only ones sounding the alarm about the ridiculous Google Glass.  Secretary Chertoff not only knows what we can all see about Google Glass based on what’s in the clear, but my bet is that he also knows a lot about what’s not in the clear.  Which he can’t discuss publicly but can drive his concern.  He unfortunately reaches this conclusion:

We need to be judicious in how to balance innovation with privacy. The Federal Trade Commission and Congress need to take a look at this new technology before it becomes common.

In any other time, it might make sense to think that the FTC would protect American consumers.  But this is Google and if the FTC’s embarrassing record with Google tells us anything, it should tell us that the FTC will do absolutely nothing at all to stop Google from doing absolutely anything at all.  (And I’m sure that Google fanboi Ed Felton will be there to tell us nothing to see here, move along.)

So given that when it comes to prosecuting Google the FTC is simply a joke run by political buffoons, no one should be surprised that the FTC has lost the trust of the American people when it comes to Google.  They’re plenty good at doing something “important”–like screwing Gibson Guitars–but when it comes to Google, sycophantic kitties kind of sums it up.

The task then will fall to the State Attorneys General who could easily go after Google under a variety of consumer protection and secret recording statutes–not to mention sexual predator laws, because you know that is coming sure as the Sun rises in the East.  Or as we say in the law, it’s “reasonably forseeable”.

Then on the other hand, there’s always the Low Tech Disruptor of choice.  All American innovation at its best.  The thing about glass is that it breaks.  The question is, who gets the 7 years of bad luck?

One thought on “Google Glass, Wearable Surveillance and Low Tech Disruption

  1. Since you brought up Gibson, I might as well go off on a bit of a tangent and say that – having seen the documents – it had to be one of the saddest jokes in corporate regulation history.

    As I recall, the whole case hinged on the absence of one word in the agreement with the Malagsy government (the Indian part of the investigation ending in no finding of wrongdoing), namely “blank” – as in “fingerboard blank”. So, based on the wording of said agreement, Gibson could import finished fingerboards from Madagascar, but not fingerboard blanks – that is: wood cut to the general size and shape of a fingerboard, that would subsequently be filed and fitted to the neck.

    Reading through the papers I wondered whether to laugh or cry. Leaving aside the fact that I hadn’t encountered the term fingerboard blank till then – being a keen guitarist and pretty familiar with the construction of the instrument, so probably a lot more knowledgable than the politician or civil servant that signed off on the deal on the Malagasy end – the only time a fingerboard is finished is when it’s glued to the complete neck (and even then it sometimes needs a bit of tweaking post-purchase).

    In other words, the FTC had to bend over backwards to have any kind of case, because any reasonable investigator could easily come to the conclusion that there was nothing to see there (for instance, by getting in touch with the appropriate authorities in Madagascar and finding out what exactly it was they thought that Gibson was importing from them). If only they’d put in similar effort into actually dealing with a proper corporate wrongdoing problem.

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