Don't be a Glasshole

Google Glass bar fights aren't about class warfare — they're about privacy


If one Googled "etiquette for wearing Google Glass" last week, the top search result was news of an incident involving Sarah Slocum, a social media consultant who achieved overnight international fame for winding up in a bar fight.

It started Feb. 22 when Slocum popped into the Lower Haight bar Molotov's sometime before last call. She was wearing Google Glass, a wearable computer that can surf the web, live stream, and record through a computerized prism positioned on a set of glasses in front of the right eye.

Some of those present at Molotov's — known for its cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon and punk overtones — reacted angrily to her gadget, telling her to take it off because they thought she was recording. Based on what she wrote on Facebook, she didn't begin to film until after receiving the unwanted attention.

Conflict ensued. San Francisco Police Department spokesperson Albie Esparza said, "one of the suspects grabbed the Google Glass off her face," according to the police report, "and she ran out of the bar in pursuit. She retrieved the Google Glass," only to discover later that her purse had been stolen.

Based on two separate eyewitness accounts, a male patron did yank the wearable computer off her face, but gave it back to her; that prompted Slocum's male companion to throw a punch at him and the two wound up in a tussle on the hood of a car.

Conflicting accounts aside, the incident made international news — likely because San Francisco has already earned a reputation as being ground zero for popular backlash against the tech sector and the dramatic economic shifts that have accompanied its rise.

"What makes this story special," Slocum wrote on her Facebook page, "is that no one has experienced a hate crime or been targeted for a hate crime, which is what it was, for wearing Google Glass." (Actually, the legal definition of "hate crime" only covers criminal acts motivated by bias against a victim's race, religion, ethnic origin, disability, or sexual orientation.) Slocum did not respond to Bay Guardian requests for comment.

"I get you," one of Slocum's friends wrote on her Facebook page as the bar fight was mushrooming to epic proportions by the hour. "But when you cross boundaries you can't complain if the natives fight back! Are you aware of what it's like to try and LIVE in SF nowadays? What the techies have done to the city and the culture?"

While many have interpreted the now-infamous incident as yet another sign of simmering class tension in a city where neighborhoods are undergoing rapid gentrification, a separate issue will likely cause more flare-ups, particularly as Glass trickles into the mainstream.

Walk into a bar with a computer that doubles as a recording device mounted squarely on your face and you are going to push people's buttons, so to speak.

Glass users could easily wind up in legal hot water. Just as quickly, anyone a Glass user encounters while using the device to record could unwittingly wind up on the Internet.

In California, it's illegal to record a private conversation without all parties' consent. The computerized prism of Glass lights up when it is recording, so third parties can tell if a user is filming because his or her eyeball will be illuminated.

Even so (or if someone hacks his or her way around the light feature), it might not be totally obvious to others whether a Glass user is recording. Not everyone knows what the light means, and the device will remain fixed on the user's face whether it's in use or not.