Will Google Glass turn us all into government spies?

On 4 July, the founder of PRserve, Chris Barrett videoed an arrest that followed a fist fight on the Jersey Shore boardwalk.

We live in a world where such actions are routinely recorded on smartphones and uploaded to YouTube, but what makes Chris’s video unusual is he used Google Glass to film it.

As Barrett pointed out in an interview he gave to VentureBeat, "I think if I had a bigger camera there, the kid would probably have punched me. But I was able to capture the action with Glass and I didn’t have to hold up a cell phone and press record".

In other words, because most people haven’t even yet heard of Google’s wearable computer, let alone seen one in the real world, Barrett was able to record the action without anyone knowing they were being filmed.

I live in the UK, which is the most watched country in the world. There are cameras everywhere you go -- whether you’re out on the street, in a shop, or riding public transport, someone, somewhere is watching you.

At the moment, the vast majority of those cameras are fixed, but if Google Glass takes off the way the web giant hopes it will, suddenly there’s the potential for a whole mobile army of users recording your activity, without you knowing about it.

The vast majority of people already carry a video camera everywhere, in the form of a smartphone. But Google Glass is different. It’s primed and ready to record at a moment’s notice. No fumbling about trying to get your phone out and firing up the camera.

And pretty much anyone can wear and use Glass -- police officers, lifecasters, perverts.

Privacy campaigners like the London-based Stop the Cyborgs want limits placed on when and where the device can be used, and privacy issues have been raised by US Congress. Google for its part says use of Google Glass will be governed by the terms of the Google Privacy Policy and no changes to that are planned for the device.

At Google I/O this year we saw how easily video can be live streamed to a Google+ Hangout, and this lead to a friend of mine asking an interesting question. If government agencies do indeed have "direct" access to your data from Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook, what’s stopping them from having direct access to all the footage streamed by Glass wearers worldwide?

In other words, what’s stopping the government from transforming anyone wearing Glass (or a similar product from Apple or Microsoft) into a mobile CCTV camera?

Stop the Cyborgs describes the possibilities thusly: "Imagine 10 percent of the population doing this all the time, walking in and out of buildings and homes. Imagine all this data being time stamped and geotagged, flowing to a large database in the cloud. A omniscient eye; a real time streetview extending into homes and businesses; society as a glass prism".

Does that possibility worry you, or do you think it’s all conspiracy theory nonsense? Have you long since given up worrying about privacy? Leave your comments below.

Image credit: Stop the Cyborgs

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