ITEM: Google Glass is back – only it’s not from Google, it looks a lot cooler, it’s far easier to use, and it’s ten times cheaper. Also, it just might be able to sidestep the inevitable privacy questions.
Late last week, Snapchat shortened its name to Snap and announced Snap Spectacles, which are basically sunglasses with an integrated video camera. With the touch of one button, wearers can record 10-second snippets of circular video with a 115-degree field of view, then upload them to Snapchat via a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection.
All that for $130. And it’s available in three different colors.
To clarify that opening paragraph, it’s not exactly like Google Glass. Apart from the price tag and form factor, it’s not an augmented-reality device – it’s a wearable connected video camera with the sole purpose of generating Snap content.
But Snap Spectacles potentially raises the same basic issue that arguably sunk Google Glass: the privacy issues raised by the ability to clandestinely record video.
There are a number of technological reasons why Google Glass was eventually discontinued, but the privacy issue was a significant one – many people were alarmed at the idea that someone wearing a pair of AR glasses could be secretly filming or photographing them for God-knows-what purpose. (The term “Glasshole” was coined specifically for this reason.)
Snap Spectacles do come with a red light that lets people know when you’re recording, but that may not make them feel less uncomfortable about it, and it’s likely that someone is eventually to hack the glasses to disable the light, if only to prove it can be done.
On the other hand, another reason Google Glass raised privacy hackles was the fact that Glass was connected to Google’s massive data-gathering analytics engines. That’s not the case with Snap Spectacles.
Also, as Jamie Condliffe at MIT Technology Review argues, Snap plans to market them as simple-to-use “toys” at a relatively affordable price, and if they become a cool fashion statement, that could spur mass adoption to the point where people are less concerned about wearable cameras:
What could act in Snap’s favor is volume. While Glass was the preserve of wealthy, middle-aged Silicon Valley types who were few and far between and easy to feel alienated by, cities awash with Spectacle-wearing Millennials could help normalize public video recording.
In a sense, public video recording has already been normalized as far as smartphones go. And as Engadget notes, selfie culture wasn’t a mass phenomenon when Google Glass first appeared:
… it’s easy to forget that the meteoric rise of the selfie and apps like Snapchat, Periscope and Facebook Live have made people a bit less sensitive to sharing video, something that wasn’t the case back in 2013. Indeed, a quick look at Google Trends shows that “selfie” was a barely bubbling search terms when Glass was introduced. Obviously that’s not the case now.
Even so, some people are going to complain, and it’s a fair bet that at last some local market regulators in Asia are going to be taking a very close look at gadgets like these, whether they’re concerned with people’s privacy or potential national security implications.