It’s begun. The first traffic ticket was issued to a driver for wearing Google Glass, and now the first report popped up of a restaurant kicking out a patron who refused to remove the wearable device. Glass wearers are quick to point out that these are isolated incidents that don't represent the majority of users, but every regulation starts with an isolated incident. If wearable technology like Glass becomes common, privacy concerns could be met with more new laws regulating the technology's use.
The 5 Point Café in Seattle was among the first establishments to announce that Glass would not be allowed inside, as the owner cited privacy concerns. “You have to understand the culture of The 5 Point, which is a sometimes seedy, maybe notorious place, and I think people want to go there and be not known,” Owner Dave Meinert told Forbes. It was perhaps the publicity gained from this announcement that attracted a Seattle-based network engineer, named Nick Starr, who refused to remove his Glass, asking to see a written policy on the rule. When a written policy was not provided, Starr and his friends reportedly left angry.
“I would love an explanation, apology, clarification, and if the staff member was in the wrong and lost the owner money last night and also future income as well, that this income be deducted from her pay or her termination,” Starr told Forbes. Meinert responded by saying it’s poor etiquette to wear a device that can record others in a restaurant. Public support for Starr has been sparse, if not completely absent, even among the Google Glass community, which had already coined a term for how Starr’s behavior is generally perceived. Since the incident, Starr’s public Facebook page has been made private and his Twitter account has disappeared.
Starr’s behavior may not be typical among Google Glass users, but it brings up privacy and safety concerns for many. West Virginia was one of the first states to impose a ban on driving while wearing Glass, and other states have followed suit, with California issuing its first ticket to a Glass user in October. Strip clubs in Vegas have instituted bans on the device, and Google also seems to be concerned, placing restrictions on both adult content and facial recognition capabilities.
But eventually, Google Glass will be no more regulated than smartphones are today, said Ben Nelson, a Web developer, moderator for the Google Glass community on Reddit and owner of a Google Glass. Nelson drew a comparison to the first days of camera phones to show how early concerns about technology fade away once the tech in question becomes a normal part of culture.
“I can remember when [camera phones] were first coming out people being skittish about it because they didn’t want pictures of themselves on the Internet,” Nelson said. “That’s almost a given now, at least for people young enough. It’s just kind of understood there are going to be pictures of you on the Internet and nobody really worries about it anymore.”
The question of whether technology like Glass is a good or bad progression in society is a moot point, Nelson said, because it’s inevitable that wearable tech will become the norm. “Technology is going to become smaller and smaller and more available, and people will have their own opinions about whether it’s polite in the year 2013 to wear a camera on your face," he said. "But within the next 10 years it’s going to become commonplace either way.”
Nelson shared his own rules for using Glass in public. “If I’m walking up to a counter and there’s somebody working at that counter, I always tip the glass up on my head just to be polite to them,” he said. “While I believe that everybody will get used to it, I respect that people aren’t necessarily used to it yet, and I wouldn’t do, for example, what that guy in Seattle did.”
The laws around Glass will likely fall in line with society’s acceptance of the technology, he said. But not all Glass users are going to be as courteous and understanding as Nelson, as Starr proved. “I’ve noticed something in the Glass community,” Nelson said. “A lot of Glass wearers swear up and down they’ve never had any negative reaction or looks from wearing Glass, and I don’t believe that for a second. I don’t think they’re lying – I think they’re probably just oblivious to it.”
Nelson recalled the first day he took his Glass out for a test drive. “I put it on the first day I got it, went down to the Target and just wandered around to see what people would do, and you get all kinds of strange looks,” he said. “It’s not normal right now and you expect that.”
It’s still too early to tell when and if wearable computers will be common, but maybe Nelson is right that they will eventually be considered the same as any other device. After all, people have been acting rude and invading the privacy of others long before Google Glass was invented.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.