Let’s Talk Tech: Photos and Privacy

When Google Glass came out, everybody laughed. Glass wasn’t practical, it was extremely pricy, and it looked silly to boot. No average person was going to go out and spend $1,500 on a facial computer that was going to get mocked by their friends. We more or less denounced the idea of wearable technology, and didn’t stop to think about the larger problem looming behind Google Glass: privacy.

We all know the embarrassment of an unflattering candid photo, and most people immediately request that the offending file be deleted. Why are we so obsessed with getting rid of stupid photos and videos?

It all has to do with public image. Anything that ends up on the Internet is accessible by just about anyone with WiFi. It’s this threat of Internet immortality that forces users into being overly cautious about what they post and who can see it. Nobody wants their family, friends, coworkers, or employers to see a Snapchat of what they did at a glo-in-the-dark party last weekend.

Larger public figures have to think about how photos and videos could affect them on a national scale. Most recently, a bystander happened to take a video of Hillary Clinton stumbling at an event and the five-second clip was national news within a couple of hours. No one knew she was being filmed, and she never gave her consent to be filmed, but it severely impacted her campaign and sparked raging Twitter controversy for days afterwards.

Obviously such a public candidate is not going to have much of a private life, but the principles of knowledge and consent are still the same. Clinton’s campaign did not disclose her illness because they knew how it would look to the public, and the candid video ended up ruining that plan to keep her personal life to herself.

How does this tie in to Google Glass and wearable technology? It’s very simple: there is no such thing as privacy with wearable technology. When someone holds up a phone and strikes a pose, you know they’re taking a picture or video and if you don’t want to be in it, you know to move away or ask them to not include you in the frame. There is a social attitude to abide by a stranger’s request to not be in a photo and to adjust accordingly.

There aren’t any social rules surrounding wearable technology. Most people don’t know how to take a picture with Glass and wouldn’t know what was happening if a stranger with funny glasses winked at them from across the street (Chalfen). Most people wouldn’t know that they just had their picture taken, and had their right to deny the picture or ask that the picture be deleted taken from them. Who has the right to that picture? The person who took it? The subject who doesn’t know they’re in it (Michael)? It’s creepy, and a little scary to think about how removing consent from something as simple as a picture opens up a window of opportunity for stalkers, rapists, or other people who want to do harm without getting caught.


Chalfen, Richard. “‘Your Panopticon or Mine?’ Incorporating Wearabletechnology’s Glass and GoPro into Visual Social Science.” Visual Studies 29.3 (2014): 299-310. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

Michael, Katina, and MG Michael. “Computing Ethics: No Limits to Watching?” Communications of the ACM 56.11 (2013): n. pag. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

Photo Credit






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