Battle lines being drawn as wearable tech raises privacy and security fears

Google Glass banWe are starting to see the first shots fired in the coming war about wearable technology. The most talked about early salvos related to the very recent and highly publicised case of a diner in a Seattle cafe who was ejected when it was discovered he was wearing and using Google Glass despite being asked not to and reminded of the restaurant owner’s policy regarding wearable tech. The ensuing media storm broke on social media first as it does these days, with the Google Glass owner arguing – perhaps unreasonably – they were his glasses and he should be allowed to do what he wanted with them , while the cafe owner argued –perhaps reasonably – that his other customers don’t want to have a meal out while wondering if they are being filmed or recorded by a complete stranger with the ability to upload it all instantaneously.

The tension is clear. While it’s already possible to film or record people using smartphones and other technology, you’d look odd doing so without their consent and might be asking for trouble. Wearable technology, on the other hand, allows you to do it discreetly and possibly without their knowledge. Not unreasonably people are beginning to ask whether Google Glass is the final nail in the coffin for personal privacy.

As is often the case, legislation is struggling to keep up and companies may soon have to wake up to the need to develop their own policies, as they have done with BYOD, another technological development that has created security and cultural tensions that have yet to be fully resolved. A new blog called Stop the Cyborgs is even offering people the resources needed to impose their own ban.

The first battlegrounds in the war against Google Glass are, understandably, public places such as restaurants, theatres, cinemas and hospitals. Many are beginning to introduce their own policies, often based on existing legislation relating to copyright, broadcast rights and privacy. For restaurants, the argument remains that the devices should be banned simply because other patrons don’t like not knowing whether they are being filmed or not.

Next up is the workplace, where this latter point is also important but which also presents a number of security related issues. Here things might become more complex because there is a strong case for Google Glass from a commercial point of view, just as there is with BYOD. Market research firm Gartner recently predicted that companies using Glass and other wearable technology could save $1 billion a year within three to five years.

Hands-free access to the Internet, cameras, conferencing and phone calls and augmented reality (which presents information on the lens about objects in front of the wearer)  will be a big help to people who work outside of the office, according to the report.  “The greatest savings in field service will come from diagnosing and fixing problems more quickly and without needing to bring additional experts to remote sites,” claims Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner.

This will be driven by the uptake of the devices for business. At the moment virtually no companies are using Google Glass in a work context, under 1 percent according to Gartner. But the report predicts this will rise to ten percent within five years.

As happened with BYOD, the benefits of this uptake would need to be balanced against its downsides. As well as the potential to distract employees, these will focus primarily on privacy and security. The recording of activities, meeting and conversations in the workplace will raise a number of issues.

Confidential and private information will be easy to record and broadcast through the devices so their use may be banned or restricted in certain areas and situations. But this may not be as problematic as the cultural tensions that exist between those who might consider it appropriate to record other people and their conversations and those who do not. While you may disagree with him, the man who was ejected from the Seattle cafe was genuinely affronted that he had been censured for what he considered was his right to do as he chose with his own stuff. It’s only a matter of time before the same clash plays out in a workplace.

For companies the challenge will be in dealing with the inevitable security issues and personal tensions in an appropriate manner.