Could Google Glass catch the Boston bomber?

Once people start wearing Google glasses, there will be zero privacy in public. That may be a creepy prospect, but it would have been useful at the Boston Marathon finish line.

By TheStreet Staff Apr 18, 2013 12:21PM

thestreet logoGoogle's Ray Liu demonstrates Project Glass glasses in San Francisco © David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBy Anton Wahlman, TheStreet

Google (GOOG) this week started delivering the first batch -- probably a few hundred, at the most -- of its Internet-enabled eyeglasses to early adopters. Production and sales will ramp up in stages in the coming weeks until they become generally available, probably within about a year.


Now, imagine that we could shift some parts of history by a year or two. Imagine that most people in public this week were wearing Google's eyeglasses, recording all audio and video almost all the time.


Let me suggest this: The case of the Boston bombings would have been solved within minutes, perhaps seconds. With hundreds or thousands of people wearing Google glasses, hardly one movement or word acted or spoken in public would have remained unrecorded. There would be no mystery as to who did it.


There were already a few photos and videos of the event, you say. Well, obviously too few, too little, too far away, too late. Using smartphones and other cameras, most people simply don't record all the time. 

Fixed rooftop cameras? Too few, too low-quality, too far away. Too little data, too much uncertainty.


With Google's eyeglasses, recording will not be a burden, so why not leave them on all the time? The quantity of film and audio tape would multiply by many decimal points. People walk and stand very close to each other, and the audio may be as revealing as the video. 

Imagine a group of 100 or 1,000 people on a city block recording audio and turning their heads while wearing Google glasses: There would be nothing left undiscovered by a forensic team. A perpetrator would have to be silent (leaving no voice print) and wear a face mask or some other face-altering makeup. It would be a lot more difficult to escape the abundant video and/or audio evidence.

The whole world looking and listening 

I have written before about the creepy impact -- some would say negative -- resulting from everyone wearing Google's eyeglasses. But there is a positive side, too, and that is -- at a minimum -- crime prevention and resolution.


Once most people start wearing Google glasses, there will be zero privacy in public. Everything you do in the presence of another person -- walk, talk, just stand there -- will be a matter of a database search. Meeting someone at a cafe just to chat in private? Forget about it. Several people wearing Google glasses will have recorded it -- audio and video.


Previously, the person at the nearest table might have overheard the conversation. With Google Glass, the whole world will be looking and listening to what you had to say. Your whole life -- and the people around you -- will effectively be broadcast on YouTube, sort of like "The Truman Show" movie from 1998.


This will be good for cloud storage companies, whether EMC (EMC), IBM (IBM) or many other companies in that corner of the market. It will also be good for Google's Android business. If you want Google's eyeglasses -- and very few people won't -- are you going to pair them with an Android smartphone or one from Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT) or BlackBerry (BBRY)? What if you have an iPhone, BlackBerry or Windows Phone? Perhaps some day, perhaps not, perhaps not as good. (Microsoft publishes MSN Money.)


Let me suggest that if you want to have the highest probability of the best Google Glass experience as soon as possible, your best bet is to pair with an Android Nexus phone. It will drive the geeks straight out of Apple's walled garden into Google's Android world.


This may also be a partial explanation behind Apple's recent stock underperformance. Looking around Silicon Valley, I see influencers ditching the iPhone in favor of "getting prepared" for Google Glass by using an Android phone, often a Nexus. This is likely going to accelerate dramatically next month and in the quarters that follow.


Of course, Apple and Microsoft are probably also working on their own eyeglasses. I would be shocked if they haven't both spent at least a year on this one. However, if Google comes to market with a product that turns out well, and manages to get a few quarters' worth of a time-to-market advantage, this could prove devastating for Google's competition.


Samsung? Yes, it, too. And you know Samsung is a lot closer to Android than iOS or Windows Phone.

All sorts of social strife 

I have written before that Google Glass will cause all sorts of social strife, conflict and tremendous public suspicion, but there are a lot of people in Boston and at the FBI right now who wish that everyone on the streets were using Google Glass this week. There is little doubt that Google Glass will cause one of the most dramatic changes in the history of mankind over the next year or so.


All sorts of questions arise with Google Glass:


1. How will Google Glass bans be enforced? What will happen when people walk into a gym, cafe, restaurant or Las Vegas casino?


2. What will happen in future product revisions, once Google glasses aren't easily detected?


3. What will happen in the interaction with police and other people?


4. These kinds of glasses are small computers, so they are expensive -- $1,500 for the first round of them this quarter. Will there be a lot of thefts?


5. How will police subpoena the audio and video recordings people will likely constantly be making?


In all my years of covering technology, I have never seen such a swift shift into uncharted territory as this one. The cloud services are there; the wireless networks are there -- in other words, the surrounding elements are in place for Google Glass to take off like a rocket.


This situation is spring-loaded for very dramatic societal behavior shift, unlike any new technology to date. It can ricochet in all sorts of unpredictable directions.


There is much we don't know about Google Glass. What will be the killer apps? Kleiner Perkins and Andreessen Horowitz are helping Google with venture capital financing to identify new ideas for Google Glass. This mimics what Kleiner Perkins did after the iPhone's 2007 introduction, financing the iPhone app ecosystem. That was a winner, to say the least.


All the uncertainty notwithstanding, the only certain winner I see is Google and the numerous cloud storage plays. The first year or two of Google Glass may be bumpy both on the streets and in the stock market, but there is more upside than downside for Google here.


At the time of publication the author was long GOOG and AAPL and short MSFT. 


More from

Apr 18, 2013 2:21PM
Exactly what this country needs, everyone acting as a surveillance camera for big brother.
Apr 19, 2013 8:01AM

A pair of glasses to record our every word and action?  Save your money; none of us are that interesting in the first place.

Apr 18, 2013 8:16PM
And don't ignore the other side of this:
New technology and capabilities are always followed by ways to manipulate and compromise them.

Do you really think we'll be able to trust everything we see and hear?

Apr 20, 2013 10:19AM


Answer to question 3. You will risk getting a beatdown.


Answer to question 4. They will kill you for a pair of shoes. You do the math.


Apr 18, 2013 5:10PM
Hopefully people will not use these while texting and driving.
The roads are safe now but this could be the tipping point.
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