Google Glass: Privacy, Surveillance, Technology, Data

Google’s new product, Glass, will enable secret video recording.

Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.

Recorded video will be stored not on users’ own computers, but in Google’s data-centres. With Google’s excellent technology, indexing such videos using face recognition and voice transcription many not be too far behind. And who will have access to that data?

This is, of course, one of those things that, in general, matters far more to the margenilised  (who are often poor) than it does to the early adopters (who, in the case of this expensive product, must be rich). And so, as ever, the concerns of the margenalised are not heard in the public debate.

Someone in Seattle has been deliberately annoying people by videoing them in an intrusive fashion. His actual purpose is unknown (he’s anonymous), but it seems he’s trying to make a point:

In most cases, people become agitated and tell him to stop. That’s when the cameraman makes his point: Cameras are everywhere already. This one just happens to be held by a person instead of mounted on a wall or traffic light.

That said, surveillance cameras are often not reviewed, and the footage is usually deleted unless there’s a crime to investigate. What will happen with Google Glass footage is anyone’s guess: it probably won’t follow existing proven solutions.

One possiblitity, of course, is strong social shaming of people who use such technology. Physical assault is probably going a bit too far, though it has been attempted.

I mentioned recently that I am mystified by right-wingers. One of our many points of difference is that they’re more scared of powerful government, and I’m more scared of powerful corporations. Governments are scary too, but at least we get a chance to vote on them. Monopolies, less so.

And monopolies really are a problem. Putting all surveillance into the hands of the “authorities” (be they the police, transport authorities, or simply business owners) isn’t safe either. Citizen recording of police action has helped out in more than one incident of violent assault by police officers, and CCTV footage does have a tendency to go missing when it shows police in a bad light. Steve Mann refers to this citizen check on authorities’ actions as sousveillance, and he does have a point. So where does, and where should, the power ballance lie?


Hans Rosling makes data sing

Over on the blog of Tullamore Toastmasters I posted some videos of the Swedish Professor of Public Heath, Hans Rosling, whose statistics are fascinating, insightful, and, ultimately, encouraging. The world is in many ways better than we might have thought it was. (The world isn’t only healthier than we might have thought; it’s also a lot less violent.)


Theology is strange: Positive Atheism (Jewish)

No, not the actual philosophical position of Positive Atheism, but a Jewish theological position that atheism can be a positive force.

Those who have faith sometimes make their peace with the injustices of this world by claiming that they are the will of God. Therefore God created atheists to protest and fight every injustice.

Jewish theological reasoning can be quite fascinating at times. Also quite arcane.


Burning Kittens is Wrong!

Kitten-burning is absolutely and definitively wrong! I don’t care what you tell me, or who says otherwise, I will bravely say it is wrong!

Yes, bravely. Because, of course, opposing the burning of kittens puts me in a minority, and marks me out as specially moral.

Oh, wait. No. It doesn’t.

Fred Clark talks about why people “bear false witness”, spreading malicious rumours in a story about the company Proctor & Gamble.

  1. They didn’t really believe it themselves.
  2. They were passing it along with the intent of misinforming others. Deliberately.
  3. They did not respect, or care about, the actual facts of the matter, except to the extent that they viewed such facts with hostility.
  4. Being told that the Bad Thing they were purportedly upset about wasn’t real only made them more upset. Proof that the 23rd largest corporation in America was not in league with the Devil made them defensive and very, very angry.

He goes on to talk about burning kittens, and how we use monsters to make ourselves feel good.

A few years ago there was a particularly horrifying kitten-burning incident involving a barbecue grill and, astonishingly, a video camera. That sordid episode took place far from the place where I work, yet the paper’s editorial board nonetheless felt compelled to editorialize on the subject. They were, happily, against it. Unambiguously so. It’s one of the very few instances I recall when that timidly Broderian bunch took an unambiguous stance without their habitual on-the-other-hand qualifications.

I agreed with that stance, of course. Who doesn’t? But despite agreeing with the side they took, I couldn’t help but be amused by the editorial’s inordinately proud pose of courageous truth-telling. The lowest common denominator of minimal morality was being held up as though it were a prophetic example of speaking truth to power.

We can all of us, at any time, find ourselves caught up in a lie like the one about Proctor & Gamble. When we do, we face a moral crossroads: how will we react to learning we were wrong? This applies to any form of misunderstanding or urban legend, but is especially acute when the story is malicious

CS Lewis had a pretty good analysis of this sort of thing in Mere Christianity. It’s written from a Christian perspective, of course, and I disagree with some of his premises, but I still think it’s insightful.

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

Monsters are also useful for enforcing in-group/out-group morality. Monsters are the other. We are insiders. They are outsiders. We are human, and sometimes we think like that. We want the monsters to be real.


Men and Children

Our society seems to have an automatic assumption that all men are paedophiles.

The British Musicians’ Union warned its members they are no longer to touch a child’s fingers, even to position them correctly on the keys.

But the effect isn’t just silly things like that. It can mean that men are reluctant to help lost and frightened children.

In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn’t stop to help for fear he’d be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.

Meanwhile, many airlines have a policy that men are not allowed to sit beside unaccompanied children. (According to Virgin Atlantic, this somehow does not count as “discrimination”.)

French pilots have warned about the risks of such policies leaving unaccompanied children without assistance, such as help with seatbelts or oxygen masks, immediately to hand in an emergency.

Paranoia. It’s good for no one.


Virtuous Paedophiles?

I find this fascinating. Some people are sexually attracted to children, but have the moral sense to not act on that attraction. But it can be a lonely life, so a new online community for “virtuous paedophiles” may help. has an interview with the man who founded the site. Interesting, and slightly disturbing reading.

Dan Savage also has a couple of letters from readers on the topic. It seems that some countries do a lot better than others at helping people in this situation. Stong privacy laws help, it seems.

My heart goes out to people to whom nature has given something as powerful and as distracting as a sex drive and no healthy way to express it.

Dr James Cantor

Germany has Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, which includes a hospital-based clinic and anonymous hotlines that people who are attracted to children can call when they need to talk to someone, vent, or debrief. In Canada, we have the Circles of Support and Accountability—groups of volunteers who provide assistance and social support and who, in turn, receive support and supervision from professionals.

Dr James Cantor

Stand strong, and get the, ahem, heck out of the US!