Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Google Glass has finally come forward to clear its name, debunking the top 10 myths about the connected eyewear in a post to Google+ published yesterday.
It was high time for such an update, and I’ve long wondered why Google sat idly by as its breakthrough wearable device's reputation was sullied by negative press and social media mockery. In January, I published a post to this blog expressing concern over Glass’s reputation after a team of rogue developers released a facial-recognition app for Glass while fully aware that Google didn’t support the technology. This was problematic for Glass, leading the already Glass-wary public to assume that its users were conducting background checks as they walked by on the street. Shortly thereafter, I heard from Chris Dale, head of communications and public affairs for Google Glass, clarifying that not only did Google “not support” facial recognition, but that Google had expressly forbidden the technology in the Glass developer policy. It seemed like a strange distinction to make at the time – if Google didn’t support the technology, does it matter that its policy prohibits it by name?
More importantly, I was concerned about what Google was doing to denounce those who were dragging the Glass name through the mud. I don’t really have an opinion on Glass myself, but the negative connotations and mockery surrounding it in social media were starting to make it look like the next Segway – a technology that promised to change the world but alienated all but its first users.
Google’s blog post about Glass myths is an important first step to preventing that, and in retrospect I think it was well-timed.
The aforementioned facial recognition concerns are addressed explicitly:
Myth 5: Glass does facial recognition (and other dodgy things) Nope. That’s not true. As we’ve said before, regardless of technological feasibility, we made the decision based on feedback not to release or even distribute facial recognition Glassware unless we could properly address the many issues raised by that kind of feature. And just because a weird application is created, doesn’t mean it’ll get distributed in our MyGlass store. We manually approve all the apps that appear there and have several measures in place (from developer policies and screenlocks to warning interstitials) to help protect people’s security on the device.
The blog post goes even further with another clarifying that Glass is, in fact, not the "perfect surveillance tool" and does not "mark the end of privacy."Some other important clarifications are made – that Glass is not always turned on, and so not every person wearing a Glass unit is recording you at all times or watching YouTube videos while driving. Google also clarified that it does not want the entire world distracted from the most important moments of their lives on account of Glass. If individual users choose to do so, that’s their prerogative.
One particularly interesting bit form the post is the clarification that the $1,500 cost for a Glass prototype does not mean that everyone wearing one is "wealthy and entitled." A lot of Glass users could have gotten the device through an employer, and, in this strange testing period we’re at with the technology, they may be wearing it (somewhat) against their will, for research or testing purposes assigned to them.
This is especially important after the apparent brawl that broke out at a San Francisco bar last month. Around the bar’s closing time, a handful of patrons weren’t too thrilled to see a San Francisco woman showing her Glass device to others in the bar. Insults were exchanged, punches were thrown, petty theft occurred, and Google Glass had a publicity nightmare. Clarifying that not all Glass users are buying the units in bulk to match the color of their outfits can only help calm the vitriol against anyone with the device. It certainly can't hurt.
When I first heard from Dale in response to my January post about Glass’s diminishing reputation, I wondered what was taking Google so long defending the technology and its users.
However, I think this was handled well. Publicly reacting to one individual event or article doesn’t have much of an impact. The public statement is expected at this point, and whatever the company says in the first few days after receiving bad press gets lost in the shuffle. People remember the issue that provoked it, and the company’s reaction just becomes a footnote. By waiting for the Glass narrative to cool down a bit, Google made the debunking of the myths its own narrative. Now, people like me are writing about Google debunking myths about Google, rather than writing about a fight at a San Francisco bar to which Google happened to respond.
That could go a long way toward preparing the public for Glass’s introduction to their every day lives.