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3 privacy violations you shouldn't worry about

Mike Elgan | April 22, 2014
In the past few years, the public has been confronted with hitherto unimaginable levels of personal privacy invasions.

But Google's email scanning isn't a privacy violation. Why? Because the content of nearly all email is routinely scanned, usually as part of an effort to combat spam.

And in any event, an algorithm isn't a person. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not sitting in some conference room reading your emails.

Algorithms are doing simple logic, reasoning that if email = "camping" then display "sleeping bag" ad. Nobody is reading your email.

3. Google Glass

The biggest unfounded privacy panic has got to be the hysteria surrounding Google Glass.

Google Glass eyewear is equipped with cameras, and you wear the device on your face. From that combination of facts, a vocal percentage of the public has concluded that Google Glass wearers are entitled jerks who don't care about the privacy of others. "Glasshole" is the label of choice for these people.

It gets ugly out there. Especially in San Francisco, a city that's roughly 36 miles from Google's Mountain View headquarters. A woman wearing Glass was attacked in a bar in San Francisco in February. A male Glass user was attacked near that city's Mission District this week.

To the anti-Glass crowd, such incidents are evidence of just how much of a socially unacceptable privacy invasion Google Glass is. But these attacks have nothing to do with Google Glass and everything to do with San Francisco. A loud minority of people in that city are assailing the technology industry in general, and Google Glass is a symbol of that industry.

A group calling itself the Anarchist Collective is protesting IT professionals, and even harassing Kevin Rose, who is a co-founder of Digg, Revision3, Pownce and Milk and who currently works as a partner at Google Ventures. They claim that IT professionals are overpaid and by living in the city are driving the cost of living too high. Their demand is $3 billion from Google so they can live wherever they want, including in the woods, in a capitalist-free society of their own making.

Most people who are slamming Google Glass aren't anarchists or VC harassers. But the widespread myth that Glass represents a special class of privacy violation adds a level of social acceptability, even righteousness, to their cause and may even convince them that it's OK to criticize, confront and even attack wearers of Glass.

Google Glass is not a violation of privacy that anyone should freak out about, and here's why: It's harder to take sneaky pictures of people with Glass than it is with a smartphone.

If I'm wearing Glass at Starbucks and turn my head in your direction, I'm briefly pointing a camera at you. But so is that teenage girl over there checking her messages. And so is that guy standing in line and holding his phone. And so is the woman in the corner taking a selfie — you're in the background.

 

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