Google Glasses offer Orwellian nightmare

While the geekier of us have been frothing at the mouth dreaming of ugly glasses that are sort of like smartphones, one group is dead against it: Stop The Cyborgs argues that technology trends are leading the world into a future where “privacy is impossible and central control total”.

The group describes its primary objective as sparking debate, but it also wants sympathisers to take active action toward making life difficult for what it calls intrusive surveillance. It is not after an all encompassing ban on devices like Google Glass, but claims it’s “important for society and democracy that people can chat and live without fear that they might end up being published or prosecuted”.

The argument swings both ways. Many abuses of power have been captured by citizens with smartphones that otherwise would have not even been on the radar.

Stop the Cyborgs frames technological developments not as politically or socially neutral progressions, but instead that they impact the lives of people, and “encourage and discourage certain behaviours but we typically don’t even question their design and intrinsic biases”. The group espouses the idea that regular Joes must become politically active to shape the social norms around technology.

Supporters are encouraged to make their property or places of work free of Google glass or surveillance devices by asking people to turn off their devices. This, the group argues, achieves several points: it is a practical act to cut off localised surveillance, a symbolic act that displays privacy concerns, it is a way of exerting social pressure to establish norms around usage, and it can serve as market pressure to discourage consumers from buying – and ultimately companies from developing – the systems.

A cynic could argue this push back against surveillance is too little too late. Already it is possibly for intelligence agencies and authorities to gain access to email logs and more. A recent study also suggested that if you have a GPS-enabled smartphone, you are stuffed – with simple technologies available to authorities it is already possible to track and determine your ID.

Once in to a personal device, that one portable portal to the net is already a marsh of information about the user, so often connected to other accounts online as well.

Multi-billionaire New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg sounded somewhat worried when he recently appeared on radio to warn that the tide is coming in on domestic UAV drone use. Britain is the most surveillance-heavy country in the world. Facebook probably knows more about you than you or your close friends do, and the concept of utilising big data to extract predictive trends or existing information is getting smarter every day.

From a slightly conspiratorial point of view, theoretically it’s not a gigantic leap to imagine devices like Google Glasses as a more obvious push to turn the public, enthusiastically and with consent, into becoming constantly-connected and accessible on the move. We guess the question isn’t of blocking the technological developments, but rather how the information gleamed from those developments can be used, and for what.

For now, Stop the Cyborgs believes concerned citizens should write in to their political representatives, set up local groups, or even build “more human, privacy preserving systems”. As one of the top comments on the group’s about page points out, the companies developing these systems will “be spending a fortune promoting” them.

Companies like Google and Qualcomm are pushing an ever connected future and deciding the emerging trends: with the Internet of Things around the corner, it will not be long before many of us are intrinsically linked to the internet, whether we like it or not.