Google's Glass is officially in the wild. There are sightings of Glass explorers -- a few thousand people who are paying $1,500 to be among the first to put Glass through its paces -- beyond Google's campus. The initial in-depth reviews are trickling in, assessing the new wearable computer as innovative, functionally limited and pricey.
While Google Glass has a cool factor, it may make some people on the other side of the lens uncomfortable. They could be concerned about being recorded without some indication that Glass has them in its sights. There is no tiny red LED light flashing when Glass is in recording mode. However, the Glass display is on when recording, and people in close proximity on the other side of the lens can see the tiny reverse image of what's on the display. But the act of recording video or picture taking may not be that obvious from a distance or to the uninitiated. It's clearly less obvious than someone pointing a phone in your direction.
Noble Ackerson, a business strategist and software developer in Washington, D.C., has been using Glass daily for the last ten days, and believes the privacy concerns related to surreptitious recording are overblown. "In my experience more people take a picture or video of me than anyone asking me if I am recording them. The privacy concerns are based around people not having the device in hand yet and not understanding the social signals."
At this juncture, however, Glass is more of a curiosity item than a well understood technology with established social norms.
In an interview with the BBC Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, noted the privacy concerns.
"The fact of the matter is we'll have to develop some new social etiquette. It's obviously not appropriate to wear these glasses in situations where recording is not correct, and indeed you have this problem already with phones," Schmidt said.
Ackerson doesn't think that Glass will be of any use to those who want to play spy.
"It's a horrible snooping device. In order for me to record a person across the room I would have to be staring at them, which is very awkward," he said. "If you wanted to do something convertly, you could find a better device. People generally don't want to invade peoples' privacy, and there are better tools like CCTV cameras or Memoto life-logging camera."
Tech guru and Glass fan Robert Scoble shares Ackerson's view that privacy concerns are misplaced. In a post he wrote, "The privacy advocates have overplayed their hand and as more and more of you get Glass you'll see just how. Their fears of the future have led them down a bad path....if I really wanted to capture you, I'd just rent a 600mm lens and a parabolic microphone (which is what NFL Football does to make those cool movies where you can listen to the quarterback). I'd just sit across the street."
What's clear, no matter what rules of Glass etiquette evolve, is that the future will be recorded exponentially more than the past, and it will be increasingly difficult to stay out of the picture.
Updated to include comments from Robert Scoble.