Big Brother is Closer than You Think

It seems we are always under some form of surveillance.

The newest televisions have digital cameras built in which have allowed hackers visual access to your lounge rooms. Our mobile phones capture important events which previously would have never made the news cycle.

Our spending habits are tracked through loyalty programs and use of credit cards. Cash transactions are deemed suspicious even if well under the $10,000 threshold with some merchants refusing cash payments.

Cameras capture us walking down the street or driving on the roads. Even our internet browsing is recorded by advertisers, ISPs, entrepreneurs and governments alike. It seems that wherever we turn, someone, somewhere knows exactly what we are doing.

This level of surveillance often goes unnoticed, while some people are actually grateful for the enhanced security of our streets and our wallets that it can provide. However, there is a fine line between enhancing safety and becoming the unwitting victims of Big Brother.

The latest development from Google looks likely to make a giant leap into the latter category.

It’s called Google Glass (GG) and the prototypes have been released to rave reviews. It is a funky piece of eyewear that allows the user to browse the internet, get maps, access email and engage with social media like never before. The images ‘float’ in front of the eye so you never need look at your pesky smartphone again.

It sounds like an amazing innovation, but it also brings a host of questions.

I might be old-fashioned, but I already get annoyed by people who obsessively check their smartphones during a conversation. Ditto for the dinner companions who can’t leave their mobile keyboard alone between courses. Meetings are already too often disrupted by the incessant demands of buzzing phones and owners who don’t display the courtesy to turn them off or leave them behind.

Google Glass could take this to a whole new level. Gone will be the tell-tale signs of distraction displayed by a bowed head and fiddling with a computer screen. The person wearing GG could be engaging in all manner of digital amusements while looking directly at you. As such, it might be considered a vital tool to survive some power point presentations but it is almost guaranteed to lead to a decline in the standard of person-to-person interaction.

However, that’s a personal gripe. Perhaps another generation will consider it a huge leap forward in communication which might ultimately take us to a place where we might never have to leave home to enjoy almost every experience life has to offer.

Until then though, there is one serious aspect of GG that we should all be concerned about: surveillance.

You see, GG comes with the ability to record video and audio of everything that happens throughout your day. No longer is there a need to grab an iPhone and click to capture the moment. GG can do it all day, every day, automatically. That might be fine if you are the user but what if you are an unwitting victim of such recording?

A single GG wearer in your favourite restaurant could capture your image and your conversation without you ever knowing. The footage would be stored on the Google servers, your voice could be translated into text and with the use of facial recognition, could be actually matched to your Google profile. You might even find it on a social media site somewhere for millions of others to see.

It could mean the end of privacy as we know it.

Now that might be an extreme scenario that may never come to pass. Some will argue that if you have nothing to hide then there will be nothing to worry about, and they might be right. But we all have things we wish to keep from the public record: whether it be a conversation with our spouse, a personal failing, medical records or a youthful indiscretion. The advancement and availability of cutting edge surveillance technology like GG could radically change all of that.

It’s one reason we should question whether some of the great advancements in technology are designed to serve us or serve the interests of others.

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