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Cyberwear Privacy: How Will Google Glasses and Wearable Technology Transform Society?

For those who worry that individual privacy rights and personal freedoms are already being eroded by the Internet and new technology hold on to your virtual safety belts. Many experts are predicting almost everything will be recorded in public in the near future with wearable tech, whether you like it or not.

For those who worry that individual privacy rights and personal freedoms are already being eroded by the Internet and new technology – hold on to your virtual safety belts. Many experts are predicting almost everything will be recorded in public in the near future with wearable tech, whether you like it or not.

Coming soon – wearable computers (with cameras) that could be as common as Facebook accounts.  

Many New Possibilities

First, why are so many people thinking that wearable computers are a good thing? Google, Microsoft and other high-tech companies are piloting “augmented reality” which can allow us to literally experience the world through a different lens. In addition, tiny wearable cameras that look like pins will become more popular. Or, perhaps your next Christmas present will resemble a very usable Dick Tracy Watch.

(Side note: I think the name “wearable tech” is too long. Perhaps we need a new name for this new category of wearable computing. I propose we call it “cyberwear.” Any other ideas?)

 Imagine walking down street, stopping at a restaurant, saying “menu” and having the menu (with prices) pop up on your glasses. This is just the tip of a virtual iceberg of possibilities. As computers continue to shrink in size, it may seem obvious that voice-activated glasses or watches are just the next step in the natural technology evolution. We have moved from the laptop to the tablet to the smartphone to cyberwear – and no more belt clips needed for men.  

And proponents are suggesting that wearable technology will be truly disruptive to many aspects of society. Imagine how it could change law enforcement. For example:

“I recently witnessed a crime near where I live. I reported it to the police and they made an arrest. However, I couldn’t give any solid details of what the people I saw looked like – I was a really bad eyewitness. If I’d have had something like the Memoto or Glass, I could have been able to record the event easily and subtly. When the police asked “How many people did you see? What were they wearing?” I’d have had my own CCTV record to refer back to.

Going a step further, these devices could be the perfect alibi. I’ve often wondered if the police would accept my Google Latitude location record as legitimate proof of my location if I was accused of a crime I didn’t commit. Geotagged, timestamped point-of-view photos and video may be even better. Write a lifelogging app for Google Glass or use a Memoto and you suddenly have multimedia proof of where you’ve been…”

 Side Effects to Cyberwear

But with the good, comes the scary potential for misuse, and privacy advocates are lining up their objections now, before new products hit the store shelves in mass. “As personal technology become increasingly nimble and invisible, Glass is prompting questions of whether it will distract drivers, upend relationships and strip people of the little privacy they still have in public.”

So a Seattle bar has banned Google glasses, West Virginia legislators want to ban Google glasses when driving and other privacy groups are preparing for a battle between the first amendment and our personal rights to privacy.

A few of the questions include: Who can photograph (or videotape) who without permission? Who owns all the “public” data?  What rights exist for posting that content online? What will these new devices mean for cybersecurity? Will hackers gain access to thousands of other people’s glasses – creating a virtual army of
walking video cameras? Will embarrassing or inappropriate pictures start showing up all over the Internet? Will a backlash ensue?

Are Cyberwear Reservations Overblown?

 Ben Woods from ZDNet says we will gladly “Kiss our privacy goodbye.” Here is how he ends his piece: “Ultimately, Google Glass will succeed: technology will win out over the potential privacy concerns in this case. The use of email, maps, cameras and everything else on smartphones is already far too engrained in our lives to stop that functionality being put in wearable tech, but when it does we'll collectively be agreeing that the possibility of being filmed in public without our knowledge is just fine….”

But I’m not so sure. For every positive article I read about wearable technology, there seem to be two or three privacy reservations. The UK Mail Online suggests that Google Glass is potentially dangerous. “Revolutionary 'wearable computer' could disrupt crucial cognitive capacity.”

No doubt, these are complicated topics that will play out over years, and not months or days. Meanwhile, Google is trying to rally support against easy government access to personal online data today. Keeping track of the various issues has become a full time job for many lawyers. (Are you surprised?)  

What is clear to everyone is that there are huge security and privacy implications to wearable technology. This is just the beginning to this journey.

Which means that privacy and cybersecurity professionals will no doubt need to broaden our scope to ask questions like:

“What are you wearing today?”                                                                                           

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.
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