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Malice through the looking glass

“Google Explorers” are, as you read this, walking around modelling and testing Google’s Glass having paid circa $1500 for the privilege.  Glass comprises frameless glasses with a tiny computer screen fitted just above the user’s right eye which projects emails, maps, texts, takes pictures and films at a voice command.  You may think this sounds a little Minority Report-esque, but these glasses are due to go on sale next year.

Putting the sci-fi film excitement aside, the objections to this latest technology are clear.  You would not want people wearing them in a casino or cinema, for example, for fear of card counting or piracy.

More interesting is the concern surrounding privacy.  It will be even harder to control your online presence if information is being constantly uploaded by people wearing this technology.

But, what is privacy?  Surprisingly privacy in the UK was only explicitly enshrined in law in 2000 with the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) which requires UK courts to act in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention).  Article 8 of the Convention provides that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life and Article 10 provides that everyone has the right to freedom of expression.  This right to privacy is then balanced against the public interest.

Google is no stranger to questions surrounding privacy.  Earlier this year, it agreed to pay a £4.6m fine for collecting people’s personal data from personal Wi-Fi networks without authorisation when setting up Street View.  Six European data protection agencies, including the UK, are also rumoured to be contemplating legal action over Google’s privacy policy.  They are seeking to ensure, amongst other things, that Google does not store too much data about users.

There is no doubt, however, that the proliferation of Glass is certainly going to lead to further intrusion into people’s lives and erosion of their privacy.

In light of this and the global reach of such technology, we have reached a point where we desperately need global regulation of privacy issues whether by law or an enforceable code of conduct.  However, it is very difficult to envisage any such international harmonisation or accord in the near future given the massive disparities between different countries’ and societies’ approach to issues of privacy and personal freedom.

Another major concern relates to security.  Rumour has it that Glass will not be password protected and this begs the question as to how easy it will be for a hacker to hack your Glass and access your passwords, work and domestic details.

A more personal concern is whether having constant access to information will lead to a slow brain death.  If we are wearing Glass and could just ask Google for the answer, will we stop thinking and rely more and more on instant data and answers?  This may sound silly but we have all heard about those people who drive the wrong way up one way streets or end up in the middle of nowhere because they blindly follow their satnavs.

There is no doubt that Glass is here to stay but once Glass and augmented reality technology become features of daily life, I expect an explosion of moral debate and privacy litigation.

Simon Halberstam