Arrest Caught On Google Glass Reignites Privacy Debate

Jul 8, 2013
Originally published on July 9, 2013 10:36 am

The Fourth of July holiday brought about another first for Google Glass, the computing device that you can wear on your face.

Chris Barrett, a documentary filmmaker and founder of PRServe.com, was wearing Glass for a fireworks show in Wildwood, N.J., when he happened upon a boardwalk brawl and subsequent arrest. He and the technology community that has been tracking notable Google Glass moments believe he recorded the first public arrest caught on the Glass' built-in camera.

"This video is proof that Google Glass will change citizen journalism forever," Barrett wrote on his YouTube page. While all citizen journalists armed with a camera or a smartphone could capture similar video, Barrett told VentureBeat that the fact the glasses were relatively unnoticeable made a big difference:

"I think if I had a bigger camera there, the kid would probably have punched me," Barrett told me. "But I was able to capture the action with Glass and I didn't have to hold up a cell phone and press record."

Barrett added today that the hands-free aspect of using Glass to record a scene made a big difference.

"What is interesting with Glass is that in tense situations, like, say, war reporting, your hands are free while you're shooting. You can use your hands to protect yourself. If I wanted to back away, I could do it without dropping my camera or stopping the recording. That's a big step in wearable computing," Barrett told NPR.

But others worry about the implications. Christophe Gevrey, the global head of editorial solutions for Thomson Reuters, wrote this on his blog:

"More notable than the video itself is the ease at which it was captured without the knowledge of those in the middle of the melee. His footage foreshadows the rapidly approaching future where everything can be filmed serendipitously by folks wearing devices like Google Glass without the knowledge of the parties involved."

The video capability of Google Glass is raising the most concern of regulators. As The Washington Post reports:

"In May, the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus wrote Google a letter, asking for more information about how Google Glass will work within the company's privacy standards. Last month, 10 privacy regulators from around the world, including Canada, Australia and a European Commission panel, asked Google for more information on how the company's headset complies with their data protection laws and what data it collects."

Google responded on June 7, saying that it won't be changing its privacy policy to deal with Glass-specific concerns but that it is "thinking carefully" about the feedback it's getting from lawmakers.

What do you think? Is Google Glass an exciting new front in citizen journalism or is it making it too easy for citizen snooping? Tweet at us @NPRAllTech or we can chat in the comments.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: And we start at the Jersey Shore.


CORNISH: Over the July 4th holiday, as throngs of people strolled the Boardwalk of Wildwood, New Jersey, a fight broke out.



CORNISH: It was caught on video by a passerby and posted to the Web. We're hearing some of it now. But it wasn't a video camera or a Smartphone that recorded the incident, it was something new: Google Glass. The device has many features of a Smartphone that looks like a pair of eyeglasses.

And joining us to talk about why this simple recording is raising some big questions is NPR's Elise Hu. And, Elise, first tell us how did this come about? Where did this video come from?

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Well, there was a documentary filmmaker named Chris Barrett, who had just gotten some Google Glasses and he took them out on a stroll to test them out. Glass covers a users eye and with a small screen that can display email, text messages, even show you the weather. It also shoots pictures and video.

Barrett said he filmed some fireworks at first and then, on the boardwalk after, he came up on the scuffle. So from a first person perspective, can see the tense crowd, the shirtless men fighting, and a drunken throng. Eventually, police show up and arrest the scrappers. And you can see the whole scene as filmed by Mr. Barrett.

CORNISH: So what's the significance of this? I mean, there are tons and tons of videos of fights online.

HU: Sure, but since Google Glass is only available to a small batch of test users, we believe this is the first arrest caught on the Google Glass camera. Glass can do many things and video is one of them. And Google Glasses look a lot like regular eyeglasses if you aren't really paying attention.

CORNISH: So how is this any different than what you could get by using a cell phone camera?

HU: It isn't. The difference is that the folks in the scene were captured without the knowledge that they were being filmed, essentially. Now, Barrett said that had he been using a Smartphone to film, he would have gotten beaten up because somebody probably would have noticed he was shooting. So, citizen journalism is certainly being made easier, which is exciting. But some fear citizen snooping is made easier, too.

West Virginia lawmakers are already trying to ban Google Glass while driving. And Las Vegas casinos are banning Glass as well.

CORNISH: So is this a sign of the future, that we're all essentially, you know, on undercover video?

HU: Well, you could describe that as a sign of the present, even, with video cameras on our Smartphones and the apps to share them becoming so mainstream. But video is one of the Google Glass features that members of Congress were most scared of when they wrote an official letter to Google about privacy concerns. Google responded, saying it has no plans to change its privacy policy to deal with Glass-specific concerns but that it was thinking carefully about lawmaker feedback.

CORNISH: Elise, thanks so much for talking with us.

HU: Thank you.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Elise Hu. She covers technology and culture, and writes for our All Tech Considered blog. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.