Cafe’s Google Glass Ban Underscores Privacy Concerns

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David Meinert wasn’t expecting his Facebook post to draw the attention of the international media.

After all, he’d only spent about 20 seconds thinking about the post, which said that Google Glass, the much-hyped augmented reality spectacles scheduled to be released later this year, wouldn’t be permitted in his Seattle bar and diner, The 5 Point Cafe.

But the March 5 message, which noted the diner would be “the first Seattle business to ban in advance Google Glasses” and that “ass kickings will be encouraged for violators,” received quite a bit of attention. A search in Google News for “5 Point Google Glass,” for example, returns nearly 30,000 results, and publications in Russia, India, South America and throughout Europe have picked up the piece.

Meinert told KIRO that while the ban was partly in jest “to be funny on Facebook and get reaction,” it had a serious message: 5 Point patrons “definitely don’t want to be secretly filmed or videotaped and immediately put on the internet.”

“We don’t let people film other people or take photos unwanted of other people in the bar, because it is kind of a private place that people go,” Meinert told the radio station.

While many in the tech community are excited for the release of Glass — which will be able to record video, take pictures, provide directions and allow users to participate in Google hangouts, among other things — Meinert joins a chorus of others who’ve recently raised concerns about the privacy implications of Google Glass.

Writing for Sophos’ Naked Security, Lisa Vaas wonders if Glass is “the ultimate creepy stalker toy,” while ZDNet’s James Kendrick predicts that once the product is released, Glass bans will become more commonplace.

One of the more popular posts about Glass and privacy comes from Mark Hurst, an author and the founder of the consulting firm Creative Good. Hurst argues that with Google Glass, “[The] experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.”

From Creative Good:

Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you … Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud – whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between – will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.

Last month, Joshua Topolsky, editor-in-chief of The Verge, got a sneak peek of Glass. When he went into Starbucks wearing the new specs, a Starbucks employee asked the film crew accompanying him to stop shooting.

While the crew put their cameras down, Topolsky kept recording with Glass.

“Yes, you can see a light in the prism when the device is recording, but I got the impression that most people had no idea what they were looking at,” he wrote on The Verge. “The cashier seemed to be on the verge of asking me what I was wearing on my face, but the question never came. He certainly never asked me to stop filming.”

The incident highlights the unobtrusiveness of the device, as well as the uncertainty around what the gadget is actually doing at any given time. As Glass becomes more familiar, however, people will certainly begin to recognize the indicator light — or maybe even come to assume the device is recording any time it’s on someone’s face.

Jeff Jarvis, the author of “What Would Google Do?,” labels Hurst’s reaction “technopanic.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Jarvis wrote on Buzzmachine. “Just as we have with many technologies — from camera to cameraphone — that came before.”

In an email to The Huffington Post, Google chalked up the reaction around the 5 Point Cafe Facebook post to an unfamiliarity with the new technology.

“It is still very early days for Glass, and we expect that as with other new technologies, such as cell phones, behaviors and social norms will develop over time,” a representative said.

Privacy concerns aside, Google still has to figure out the fashion element.

After the 5 Point ban received widespread media attention, Meinert posted a picture of Andy Cohen, the Bravo television host, wearing Glass during a Fashion Week event last fall.

“If nothing else, we’re saving you from looking like a complete idiot in public,” Meinert wrote.

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