Forget the technology issues. The social acceptance of Google Glass and other wearable computing devices is a much bigger and more complex question. Is society ready to deal with yet another unstoppable influx of cameras and recording devices documenting our every move?
But is that intrusion really inescapable? Are there any methods that people who want a measure of privacy can use to block Google Glass and similar devices?
First, The Rules
There are potentially lots of ways someone could prevent themselves from being recorded, but in the interests of public safety and dignity, let’s establish some ground rules right up front.
Rule #1. Break No Laws: Clearly, one effective method of blocking Google Glass would be to just walk up and slap the things off someone’s face and step on the devices when they fall to the ground.
I think we can all agree: that’s not a good solution.
As tempting as it might be, causing personal injury and property damage is wrong and, frankly, stupid. So for the purposes of this exploration, any technique that breaks existing laws or causes lasting harm will be immediately disqualified.
Rule #2. Don’t Look Like A Dork: Wearing a knight’s helm or a cardboard box on your head would certainly prevent the recording of your face while walking down the street, but it might also look a bit strange.
Let’s assume that any acceptable blocking technique will not involve wearing something that falls way outside the norm for a given culture.
Solutions Already Presented
In some circles on the Internet, there have already been some suggestions about how to block these devices, all primarily based around actively jamming Google Glass. But, alas, there are problems with the existing technology behind every one of these solutions.
Blinded By The Light: One rather drastic jamming method involves actively aiming a laser at the camera lens of a Glass device to effectively blind it. This would probably work, but involves some serious risks – that camera lens will be very close to someone’s eye. A miss, therefore, could cause serious injury. Plus, given that both the laser and the Google Glass wearer could be moving, the odds of actually hitting the Google Glass camera lens would be very low, even for an automated targeting system.
So lasers are out. (See Rule #1.)
Visible light shone in the general direction of a Google Glass wearer might be less dangerous, but in order to work – especially in broad daylight – they’d have to be bright enough to dazzle or distract the Glass wearers… and anyone standing (or driving) nearby. Focusing the beams to minimize light leakage could lead to the same issues faced by laser blinding.
Infrared Jamming: For quite some time now, people have been kicking around the idea of using infrared LED lights to block security cameras from seeing someone’s face. It might seem logical to apply that idea to jamming Google Glass, since infrared (IR) light is invisible to the human eye.
But such IR jammers, when they work at all – and there’s some evidence they don’t – would be effective only for cameras that use IR to monitor scenes in low-light situations.
As far as we know, though, Google Glass’ camera won’t use IR sensors. So an array of IR LED lights worn on a hat or in a hood would be completely invisible to a Glass camera. And even if Glass does use IR sensing, there’s no way any IR LED light could outshine ambient sunlight in daytime situations. Not without a huge power supply and creating enough heat to melt your face off. (See Rule #2.)
Radio Frequency Jamming: The Internet is full of sites selling these bad boys: frequency jammers that can work on cell, WiFi and even Bluetooth frequencies. This would probably cover all the signals that Glass would use, and render these devices offline in your immediate vicinity. Of course, they would also disable any Internet-connected or cellular devices in range. That kind of overkill might or might not bother you, but it definitely bothers the FCC. In the U.S., at least, there’s a much bigger problem: any active jamming of public radio frequencies is against the law. (See Rule #1.)
Things That Might Actually Work
Is there, then, no hope? Will we have to just endure the onslaught of Glass-like devices? Perhaps not. There are a few things that might provide a measure of privacy.
Get Me Wardrobe: While tin-foil hats and the like would bust the “dork” rule, there should be some fashion choices that would help hide your identity. Big sunglasses, head scarves, large-brimmed hats… all kinds of accessories could mask your face in the presence of a Glass device. It’s far from 100% protection, of course, but it’s better than nothing.
Glass-Free Zones: You may not have to worry about Glass use everywhere you go. Many locations are already leery of camera use, and are likely to enact rules again wearing Google Glass or similar devices. Just try to take a picture in a grocery store or a bank, for instance, and you will be firmly told to stop. Movie theaters, department stores, hospitals… there are many places where privacy and security concerns mean no photography is allowed.
It is unlikely that such restrictions will relax for Glass. In fact, we are seeing early evidence that some businesses are already imposing Glass-specific restrictions – including this Seattle bar. Groups are forming to encourage creation of Glass-free havens.
Opt-Out Signals: Finally, here’s an idea that might solve the problem once and for all. Building on the LED-light idea, what if there was a tiny light on your person displaying a certain color that, when detected by Glass, would immediately blur your appearance on any recording? Or a special signal broadcast on Bluetooth from your phone that would do the same thing?
Obviously, this would require cooperation from Google’s engineers to make sure the devices recognize and act upon the agreed-upon signals. And such a scheme probably could – and would – be hacked. But supporting an opt-out approach might be the easiest, best way to accomodate the rise of these devices without compromising the privacy of everyone in sight.
These are just a few ideas that could help prevent detection/recording by Google Glass. There have got to be more and better ways, so please share your ideas in the comments below.
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