Microsoft Tests Glass Competitor. But Do Wearables Threaten Privacy, Social Norms?

Forbes has a really interesting article a couple of days back that posited the huge dislocations caused by wearable technology – including front-on challenges to social norms that are thousands of years in the making and contemporary notions of privacy.

Google Glass POV
Wearable technology threatens to undermine long-observed social norms, and expectations of privacy, a Forbes article warns.

The applications for wearable technology like Google Glass are too numerous to mention. Just a few include “heads up” displays for surgeons in the operating room. Teachers (or their students) could benefit from having notes displayed in their field of vision, rather than having to resort to printed notes or the (dreaded) Powerpoint slide.

But the devil is in the details of the wearable technology, Forbes argues. Unlike external devices – pagers, mobile phones, smart phones – wearable tech is more intimately connected to ourselves: in constant contact with our bodies and notifying us with vibrations and sounds in ways that it may be difficult to ignore, Forbes argues.

Indelicately implemented, wearable technology could turn ours into a society populated by “a**holes,” author Tristan Louis argues, quoting Scott Heiferman, the founder of Meetup.com about Google Glass, whose frustration with the distracted behavior of Glass wearers has reached a fever pitch. Louis quotes one technology executive observing that he leaves his Pebble smart watch at home when he goes out, because his habit of checking his watch in response to each text message or e-mail he received on the phone was being misinterpreted as impatience. (See also: George HW Bush).

The bigger challenge could be to privacy, however. As this blog has documented, the “killer app” for wearables is the tight integration of remote sensors with the human body. That’s what companies like CrowdOptic – which is developing technology that can leverage tools like Glass to note the gaze of the wearer for “focus-based marketing.”  Outside of the context of business and marketing, high-power cameras integrated into wearable tech will also turn every pedestrian into a paparazzi – allowing them to capture images from casual social interactions and encounters in ways that are impossible to detect – or defend against.

The wearable technology sector is poised to grow rapidly. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Microsoft is testing a prototype of a wearable technology that could compete against Google Glass, the current category leader in wearable technology. Though still in its infancy, wearable computing technology is predicted to replace current platforms like tablets and smart phones, just as those devices supplanted laptops and desktop computers. In August, the technology research firm IDC cut its forecast for tablet-computer sales through 2017, saying that larger smartphones and wearable technology will undercut tablet adoption.

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