Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

There’s a Camera on Your Face

Hey, remember Google Glass? It was going to change the world of wearable computing. Thankfully, Glass never made it out of the early testing phase. Astro Teller (that’s a great name) is the guy who was the project lead for Google Glass. The Daily Dot’s Taylor Hatmaker (that’s an even better name) reported on Teller’s post-mortem of Glass’s slow-motion fireball of a demise:

“I’m amazed by how sensitively people responded to some of the privacy issues,” Teller explains, expressing frustration about the backlash against Glass in public, given the prevalence of mobile video. “When someone walks into a bar wearing Glass… there are video cameras all over that bar recording everything.” If it were around a year ago “they’d be Meerkatting,” Teller joked.

“Society’s issues about privacy are completely legitimate,” Teller said. “I’m not making an apology for Google Glass. Google Glass did not move the needle… it was literally a rounding error on the number of cameras in your life.”

“It’s not about not having these bumps and scrapes—it’s about getting value from them,” Teller explained. “When I see that parade of mistakes in my mind’s eye… I just wish we could have made those mistakes faster.”

He’s amazed at how sensitively people responded to some of the privacy issues, but he thinks that Glass amounted to a rounding error in the number of cameras. That’s one hell of a false equivalence; the security cameras in a bar are not live-streaming to Google Hangouts. If they were, no one would go to that bar. That’s a big difference. Also, security cameras monitor (not stream) an area, not an individual person. Glass presented a qualitative camera difference, not a quantitative difference. How you can completely miss that is beyond me.

Despite all this, Teller pronounces society’s “issues about privacy” to be completely legitimate. That’s good. He’s right. In fact, the company he works for, Google, is neck and neck with Facebook for the title of company that best exploits personal information for corporate benefit. His bosses have created one of the primary sources of society’s issues outside of military superpowers’ intelligence operations.

But let’s back up for a second. Let’s pretend for a second that Teller is right, and Glass was just a rounding error in the amount of cameras in our lives. This requires us to pretend that we don’t understand the qualitative/quantitative distinction, but bear with me.

There’s a difference between this “rounding error” loss of privacy coming from Google and coming from some App Of The Week. One is an amateur operation, and the other is the world’s greatest exploiter of personal information. Sure, the one aspires to become (or be bought by) the other, but they’re worlds apart in the effectiveness of their operation. It’s like if someone sideswipes your parked car; you’ll feel differently if the driver was drunk and has a half-dozen DUIs than you will if the driver had a momentary lapse of concentration and has a spotless record. Google building Glass is qualitatively different from some random company building Glass.

If this is how Glass was going to be run, I’m extremely thankful that Google pulled the plug.