Do Video-Capable Sunglasses Cross the Privacy Line?

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Do Video-Capable Sunglasses Cross the Privacy Line?

It was only a matter of time before technology made it possible to create a pair of sunglasses with built-in video recording capabilities. Now that they have arrived, there is an important question that demands an answer sooner than later: do video-capable sunglasses cross the privacy line? Olympic Eyewear, a wholesaler of designer-like sunglasses based in Salt Lake City, says the answer is not so easy.

Interesting Engineering recently profiled a new pair of HD quality, video-capable sunglasses on their website. The sunglasses start with a black plastic frame and polarized lenses that hopefully offer some sort of UV protection. Built into the frames are both an HD video camera and MP3 player. There is also a data chip capable of storing five hours’ worth of video.

It isn’t clear who manufactures or sells the sunglasses. However, that’s not as important as what the glasses are capable of. They are marketed as eyewear that can take the place of a sports action video camera (think GoPro here) among sports junkies who really want both hands freely available.

Recording Without Consent

One must admit that having the capability of recording your mountain bike ride without having to either hold a camera or strap one to your helmet is rather convenient. Just slip on your sunglasses, press the record button, and off you go. And if that’s all these glasses are ever used for, that’s fine. But human nature dictates that someone, somewhere, will find a way to use the glasses nefariously.

The issue at hand is one of recording without consent. It’s one thing to record your trip down the mountain or free falling through the air as you skydive. It is an entirely different matter to record people in public and private spaces. Recording without consent is an immediate violation of privacy. In some places, it’s against the law.

The Google Glass Experiment

Google discovered the hard way that video-capable glasses are not a big hit with everyone. When they first released beta versions of Google Glass, they discovered that testers were having problems with proprietors who didn’t want them wearing the glasses inside their establishments. Restaurants and bars were particularly concerned.

What was the issue? Proprietors didn’t want testers secretly recording people without their permission. It is a legitimate concern. It would be bad enough to record people sitting at the bar talking. But what if a tester recorded someone in the restroom?

Privacy concerns alone did not cause the downfall of Google Glass. However, they were a contributing factor. It could be that the new video-capable sunglasses will run into the same kinds of problems. They may start out as a niche product that enjoys a bit of popularity due to the novelty factor. But in the end, privacy concerns may prevent them from ever becoming mainstream.

Individual Privacy Rights

All of this leads to the inevitable question of how far individual privacy rights extend. Do video-capable sunglasses cross the privacy line? Some would say yes by virtue of the fact that anyone wearing the sunglasses could record them without their consent. Others would argue that users have rights just like anyone else, and they should be allowed to do with their video-capable sunglasses whatever they wish.

It could be that these particular sunglasses do not cause enough of a market stir to force society to come to some sort of conclusion. But at some point, some product will. There will eventually come a time when we have to reconcile the right to privacy with technology. If not today, then tomorrow.

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Douglas Henry
Douglas Henry
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