THE BLOG
05/30/2013 04:28 pm ET | Updated Jul 30, 2013

Tech Breakthrough or Privacy Nightmare?

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When I read about the new Google Glass -- the Internet-connected computer screen that you wear like eyeglasses or attach to them -- I was amazed by the new technological possibilities -- and also appalled by the potential for new invasions of privacy as Glass wearers take them everywhere. In fact, new laws are probably being crafted as you read this to respond to Google Glass and its progeny because of the privacy concerns about this new technology.

By now, probably most people have heard about Google Glass, but just in case you haven't, here's a brief recap of what it does. Basically, the Glass is a wearable computer that allows users to take pictures, record videos, send messages, obtain weather forecasts, and get directions -- all without using their hands. It's a little like wearing a very small flash drive above your eyes. These glasses are even available on a headset that comes in five colors -- gray, orange, black, white, and light blue, and they can attach to your glasses, as described on the tech-specs.com blog.

The devices uses voice recognition to take commands and display information you can see through the glass piece, such as when you say: "take a photo". Now there is even a new app, developed by Mike DiGiovanni of Roundarch, which will let you take photos just by blinking your eyes.

Theoretically, the idea behind the new technology, according to its designers, is to "bring technology closer to your senses," so you can "more quickly get information and connect with other people." In other words, by being able to wear your computer, you need to pay less attention to technology. It gets "out of your way when you are not interacting with technology," according to Ian Bogost in an Atlantic article: "Google Zombie: The Glass Wearers of Tomorrow"

But now the blowback to this device is already occurring. For example, skeptics and critics commonly refer to glass wearers by the nickname "Glassholes." And some glassed out wearers are being compared to zombies, who are in a technological haze or hypnotized, as they stare through their glasses, while they go about their daily lives.

My own take on this new technology is to see it from two perspectives: one is considering the possibilities the device raises for new applications -- from snapping photos wherever you go to conducting surveillance to aid the police; the other is recognizing the new nail in the coffin of privacy, which is rapidly dying in the information age onslaught.

First, consider the new applications. The glass device could give a new meaning to seeing videos on the go, if you can stream videos from Netflix, Hulu, or other providers before your eyes. The glass could enable you to see commercials for new products as you walk along, leading you to make an on-the-spot decision to buy that product. Or seeing sizzling platters of tempting offerings at local restaurants might entice you to go for your next meal at that restaurant. Still another possibility is for online dating and hook-ups. Now instead of using your mobile device or laptop to call your selections on the phone, you can see them before you and readily make your pick as you walk along. In other words, anything your laptop or mobile device can do, your glass receiver can do, too -- right before your eyes.

But why limit the glass receiver only to your eyes? Such receivers could be designed to be attached to one's fingertips or other parts of one's body, as long as they are in a position to snap photos or receive information. For example, you might literally snap your fingers to take a photo, or move your elbow into position to get that shot -- a new way to get sleuth photography.

On the other hand, consider the dangers. One is if you try to glass and drive, and in contrast to seeing someone picking up a cellphone to talk or text, the police won't easily be able to see if you are using your eyepiece to communicate. They would just see the consequences, since this additional form of distracted driving could lead to increased accidents. Still another danger might be walking along with this device, if you consider the growing number of incidents where people are distracted when they use electronic devices while on the street or in a club or restaurant, and their phone or laptop gets stolen. Likewise, a lone glass user might become a ready target -- and it would seem such a theft might be even more dangerous than a thief simply running along and grabbing a phone or laptop from your hands or nearby table -- for now the thief is grabbing the glass from your head.

The other big problem is the danger to privacy, since people with these small devices could more easily snap photos of the unsuspecting. Worse, this device will soon be able to use Facial Recognition Technologies, which might be a boon to law enforcement, but what about the risks to those photographed by the average user. Will individuals be able to opt out from having the photos of their faces taken without their knowledge linked to the massive databases that are increasingly collecting data on everyone.

All these developments portend a transformed future, and lawmakers need to pass laws to regulate the use of this technology, lest these new type of computer glasses become one more incursion on privacy and create other angers as they are used in more and more ways by a growing army of users.