Thad Starner has been wearing computers on his face for 21 years. Today he works with Google on Glass, the web giant’s wearable computing project which, because of its high-profile backer and the accompanying publicity blitz, also happens to be the go-to example of all that is good and evil about wearable devices. With that status comes plenty of angst (such this campaign to “stop the cyborgs“) as well lots of hand-wringing about what it means for privacy and surveillance.
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But Starner, who is the director of the Contextual Computing Group at the Georgia Institute of Technology as well as a leading force in the Glass team, says that Glass is actually more privacy-friendly than your smartphone. Why? Because of that short battery life that everyone’s complaining about. In an in-depth profile in Atlanta Magazine, Jesse Lichtenstein writes about a conference at which Starner answered questions about privacy:
“Glass is much more honest than what you’re wearing now,” he [Starner] said to one onlooker. “I’m referring to your cell phone. You do not know if you’re recording me. Let me say that again: You do not know if you’re recording me. Your phone can be turned on remotely by your service provider. China has admitted to doing this. The FBI has admitted [link added] to doing this. It’s a service that’s been built into cell phones since the 1980s.”
Although Glass might look like the ultimate X-ray specs for spying, Starner argues that Google has intentionally designed it to prevent snooping by limiting its battery life. Whereas your phone can surreptitiously record audio and video for extended periods of time, Glass will conk out after about 45 minutes (and get hot in the process). Starner insisted to conference-goers that this was a design feature meant to protect privacy, not a flaw.
But skeptics might not be wholly convinced, especially in light of the news today that Google monitored the email of school students without consent. They may also wonder how effective such a limitation would be to prevent privacy intrusions, even as critics urge Google to improve the battery, and other companies come up with add-ons that promise to extend Glass’s battery life.