“Privacy? Screw that.”

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Er, Google glass?
PHOTO BY PETER KAMINSKI VIA FLICKR

At a party the other night, somebody convinced me to try out Google Glass. I let curiosity get the better of me, succumbed to peer pressure, and put the frames on my face for a few seconds.

A floating, illuminated square appeared in the top right corner of my vision, containing a few lines of text. One said, “take a picture,” and when I spoke those words out loud (it took two tries), the tiny screen filled with the face of the person I was looking at, outlined by tiny camera brackets. My reality was instantly frozen in the tiny floating screen and, I can only presume, whisked off to the servers controlled by that increasingly ubiquitous presence in our lives, Google. Just like every other time I’ve ever snapped a picture on my smartphone, only with less effort.

Even weirder than donning a pair of the geeky gear myself was going into Vesuvio last night and spotting a normal looking, middle-aged man sipping his drink and sporting Glass like it was nothing. At Vesuvio! I began to ponder. What if everyone in the bar had been donning the wearable computers, and streaming? Would bits of my conversation have floated through electronic channels and reached the ears of eager listeners? What if, halfway through my whiskey drink, I had one of those moments: I didn’t know the mic was on. I didn’t even know there was a mic!

If you are fond of gossiping and drinking in bars in San Francisco, it is possible that you will encounter this problem some day. At present, there’s little to stop anyone from walking into a bar and streaming their surroundings directly onto the Internet with a smartphone. However, Google Glass blends our machines even more intimately with our realities, and further increases the ease with which an individual's experience can be instantly disseminated to the networked world.

Apparently, several members of Congress have taken an interest in Glass, sending a letter to Google to inquire about the privacy implications of the new wearable computing device. According to CNET:

“One question the group wants answered is how Google plans to prevent Glass for unintentionally collecting data about users without their consent. They also want to know what proactive steps Google is taking to protect the privacy of non-users when Glass is in use, as well as whether Google has considered refining its privacy policy. And they're curious to find out how Glass will use facial-recognition technology and how much privacy is considered when approving new apps.”

Privacy. It’s heating up as a focal point for activists, and evidently some of them have slick graphic design skills. Witness the international demo release of Data Dealer, billed as “the gleefully sarcastic game about privacy:”

According to press materials accompanying the release:

“A small team from Austria has developed the new online game Data Dealer which addresses issues of personal data security and privacy in a completely new, highly ironic and humorous way. At first glance the game looks similar to popular Facebook hits like Mafia Wars or Farmville. But in Data Dealer players face a very different challenge: the provocative goal of the game is to collect personal information about millions of people - and ruthlessly sell it to clients of all kinds. The game is targeted at both young people and adults. Data Dealer is an online game about collecting, combining and selling personal data – and therefore a playful exploration of online privacy issues.”