In 2014, for a mere $1,500, you can literally have Big Brother strapped to your retinas. It isn’t marketed that way, of course. Instead, Google Glass is marketed as making “augmented reality” a part of our every day lives. And while Google’s mantra may be “Don’t Be Evil” (though the company’s own morality is questionable at best), you can be assured that the government, the Secret Service, and corporations are chomping at the bit to get a hold of this veritable gold mine of information.
“Imagine your brain being augmented by Google,” Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page said in a 2004 interview. And that’s now something we no longer have to imagine. In a teaser-video for Google Glass, we’re shown the viewer flying an airplane, playing sports, ice sculpting, and playing with a dog, all the while the glasses display the time, the temperature, and incoming phone calls in the upper right view frame of the glasses-wearer. The glasses take instant photos, videos, and even display information from the internet, including translating text and an instant GPS feature.
It is hard not to make the connection between Google Glass and George Orwell‘s Big Brother lurking around every corner of the dystopian novel. In Orwell’s nightmarish future world, Big Brother – via telescreens that can never be turned off – can literally see into every space of the city. He is in your bed room, at work, on the street, and peering down every hallway. With Google Glass, Big Brother won’t need a telescreen and he won’t need to spy on citizens. Instead, citizens will do the spying for him. Google Glass will constantly be gathering real-time information about your every single movement. What you see, what you hear, where you go and how you get there, who you speak with and what about, what you eat, drink, purchase, what you research, what you read on the street and in books and even what you do in the privacy of your home.
Gold mine is an understatement. Advertisers and corporations have been data mining for years, and we already give them most of this information through what we type on search engines, the websites we visit, and even through our smart phones and GPS devices. And they’ve been using that information to target us with tailored advertisements expertly based on our patterns of interests ripped directly from that information. Google Glass doesn’t necessarily do anything new, but it is the ease with which we are offering up our data on a silver platter that is transforming the data mining world. We aren’t just inviting these companies – and furthermore, the government – to view our thoughts, patterns, and consumer habits when we access the web. Now we’re inviting them into our private lives even further and literally placing them at the forefront of everything we do by affixing them directly in front of our faces 24/7.
Obviously, I’m not the first to criticize this new gadget, nor am I the first to see the glaring connection to our impending Orwellian future. Mic Wright writes in The Kernel that “Project Glass is the telescreen made real, strapped directly onto your face, pumping adverts into your retina, encouraging you to perpetually jones for more information in a way that will make today’s Twitter addicts seem slothful and non-reactive.” And it is true. We are not only giving up our last semblances of privacy, we are also succumbing even further to our ever-growing need to be “tapped-in” to the interweb and the endless stream of useless information it offers us.
The ramifications of the ease of accessibility for government and security agencies is even more frightening, especially in the face of the recent Justice Department “white paper” obtained by NBC earlier this month detailing the legal justifications that the Obama Administration has claimed for the targeting and killing of American citizens without trial. The paper was written in an attempt to legitimize the 2011 drone killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen, including Samir Khan and Anwar al-Awlaki, and later Abdulrahman, al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son. The paper argues that the targeted killings of U.S. citizens are justified and legal under U.S. law if a threat is “imminent” (though for a specific attack to be imminent does not mean that it must currently be under way at the time), a high-level official has provided evidence that the person in question may be a threat, and if capture is difficult. The incredibly vague memo leaves much room for interpretation, and of course, this is intentional. When questioned about the right to due process under the Constitution, General Eric Holder responded in March of 2012 saying,
“Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”
Basically, if the Executive Branch says you’re guilty, that’s all the due process you need. Never mind a court, a trial by jury, or the notion that you’re innocent until proven guilty. The word of our government should be all that we require for any legal justifications.
The prospects for the information that Google Glass can provide to our government, which now reserves the right to detain us without charge (under the National Defense Authorization Act) and even immediately and covertly put an order out for our deaths, are terrifying, to say the least.
“In the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end.”
This dire prophecy is from Orwell’s 1984 and never before has this statement rang so true as today. As Wright wrote in his piece, in a way, Google Glasses are something “grimly inevitable.” It is not surprising that technology and access to the web has finally made the push not just to the tips of our fingertips but literally to right before our eyes at every moment. Not surprising, but worthy of resistance nonetheless. Wright notes,
“What will be lost with the proliferation of Google glasses, and what will be gained? Project Glass will not materially improve our lives. It will improve Google’s databases and make it easier to sell, sell, sell us more products and services. Ultimately, whatever the utopian rhetoric of Google’s cash-rich, sense-light engineering team, Project Glass will make you the easiest piece of meat to market to in history”
“BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU,” Orwell wrote in 1984. For years, we’ve carried Big Brother around in our pockets, willingly giving up our information on the web and through our phones. Now, as those in the tech world clamor to be one of the lucky “bold, creative individuals” to get to try out Google Glass for free and before the wide-release, we will lose our last vestiges of privacy. Facecrime is no longer just a term in a book to describe an illegal act given away by a facial expression. Now, it has become our reality – our “augmented” reality.
Alyssa Röhricht blogs at Crash Culture: Political Train Wrecks for Political Junkies