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Google Glass Ban

Wearable Technology: The next big thing or privacy nightmare?

by Gordy Stillman
June 11, 2014

For two days at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Dan Fischbach wore his Google Glass eyewear that allowed him to shoot photos, record video, check email and surf the Web hands-free. But on the third day, everything changed.

Meeting organizers told Fischbach that Glass was no longer allowed at the panel discussions. It didn’t matter that “everyone else” was taking pictures and making videos with their cell phones, Fischbach said. A conference associate told him that it was much easier to catch people filming with phones than with Glass.

Fischbach’s experience goes to the crux of the challenge facing the burgeoning wearable technology market.

Because they don’t require the constant use of hands or eyes, wearables are a big step up in convenience and a key trend for 2014, according to Webbmedia Group. But at the same time, wearable technology in its many forms raises all kinds of privacy concerns.


The wearable market, from face-mounted computers like Google Glass to high-tech clothing that measures heart rate or monitors sun exposure, has the potential to be massive. Information analytics firm IHS Inc. estimates the industry at around $10 billion, with the ability to triple to $30 billion or more by 2018.

Wearables are not a completely new, break-through technology, according to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited in its 2014 technology predictions report.

“They represent continuity, not a brand new start, much in the same way that tablets were simultaneously new and familiar when launched in 2010,” the report said. “The addition of a tiny screen which is permanently in line-of-sight..may enable some of us to stay permanently updated with the flows of information we crave.”

While Google Glass isn’t the only player in the wearable market, it is most certainly the poster child.

LINK: View a presentation on wearable technology here.

Google Inc. finally began selling Glass to the general public on May 15 for the same price, $1,500, it offered to early testers in its “Explorer” program. Google has not released data on sales of Glass so far and did not respond to requests for information.

But there are some signs of early adoption. Capriotti’s Sandwich Shops, a national chain with locations in Wisconsin and Iowa, has been using Google Glass since last August to film the lunch rush from the perspective of a manager-in-training.

“The trainer reviews the recording with the trainee much the same way as a basketball player would review tape of a game with their coach.  The experience provides a unique way to get feedback on performance,” said Andrew Smylie, chief information and chief marketing officer.


Smylie says that while Glass does not necessarily speed up the training process, it might “provide for a better quality training experience” because employees get feedback they would not otherwise receive.

Owen Youngman, Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, has had Glass for nearly a year. He says the use-case, or reason, for using Glass is still developing and that Glass is not yet “peripheral” to its use.

“When we read news on our phones we don’t think ‘Oh! I’m reading news on my phone! Look at my phone.’ And that’s kind of the place where Google Glass still is,” Youngman said.


Heapsylon LLC’s “Sensoria” product line currently features a t-shirt and sports bra that has embedded electrodes that monitor heart rate without the need for an uncomfortable heart-rate strap. 

The company is also developing socks that when paired with an accompanying anklet, track calories burned, cadence, speed, steps, weight distribution and even walking/running technique.

A user accesses the data the smart clothes collect through Bluetooth, the widespread technology that many people use to pair headsets with their smartphones. Once the data is on the smartphone, it’s sent to cloud-based storage.

Among the biggest concerns with wearables is personal privacy, such as being recorded on Google Glass or other hard-to-detect wearables without consent.

At Capriotti’s, Smylie says he’s sensitive to such worries.

“My primary concern is keeping our guests comfortable with us using Glass in our restaurants. Whenever we do, we always disclose that they might be incidentally filmed and that it is only for training purposes,” Smylie said.


Brad DeWitt, an Android developer with Punchkick Interactive Inc., says some arguments against Glass are similar to arguments against Facebook.

“With Facebook, people can actively post things to their profile, knowing full well what is thrown into the ether. With Glass, it’s much more passive,” DeWitt said, meaning that someone can be recorded by Google Glass, and the video or photo can be posted online, and the person may never know.

Fischbach said Google’s removal of a “guest mode” from Google Glass is another concern. Under the guest mode, he could allow others to try out Glass “without the fear of them possibly deleting any personal information off of Glass.”

Without the guest mode, Fischbach says a few fumbling fingers could delete a photo or even reveal a private message.

Heapsylon CEO Davide Vigano says the data collected by a user “is only available to the user that is actually driving that data to the cloud, and to us, and to the developer that has built that application. However, we do not sell user data. Period.” The data is kept only so users can access historical data and track changes over time.


In the case of both Heapsylon’s clothing and Google Glass, data has to go somewhere. Another concern about the rise of wearable tech is how it might impact the finite resource of bandwidth, or the amount of transmission space that’s available between devices in mobile networks.

“[Bandwidth] spectrum is gold, it’s always been gold,” says Ritch Blasi, a consultant who spent 35 years working in AT&T’s mobility groups. “The reason why you need more is you can see how usage is not only increasing, but content-rich applications are also increasing.”

Streaming videos, for example, consume a relatively large amount of bandwidth and can clog networks. If wearables pose an excessive strain on networks, it’s possible that providers like AT&T may modify data plans and raise prices to limit use.

After only a few years of iPhones on the market, AT&T removed unlimited data plans. Verizon, similarly, removed unlimited data options shortly after offering the iPhone as well.

While the $1,500 price tag for Glass may limit initial adopters, history suggests the price will come down significantly within a few iterations.

When Apple’s iPhone was first released in 2007, a model with 4 gigabytes of storage space sold for nearly $500 with a contract. In 2014, an iPhone 5S, with numerous hardware and software upgrades including 16 gigabytes of storage, sells for about $200, less than half the original adoption price.

Deloitte said in its 2014 trend report that the price point for the sale of smart glasses in 2014 “should be between $400 and $600” and that at that price there would be millions of people willing to purchase them.