With Google Glass Sergey Brin Betrays Us All

A buff Sergey Brin strode onto the TED stage. He branded smartphones “emasculating.”

“Is this the future of connection, just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass?”

“Is this the way you’re meant to interact with other people? It’s kind of emasculating. Is this what you’re meant to do with your body?”

Brin, with TED serving as both promotional backdrop and technical validation, then showed off Google Glass, a fashionable pair of glasses complete with video recording, Internet connectivity, voice commands, phone, texting and augmented reality overlay. A true marvel of engineering.

“But I whip this out and look as if I have something important to do.

What Sergey whips out and deems important, I consider a violation.

Google, I understand. Google benefits from capturing my personal privacy. They sell my information to the highest bidders, just like yours. I confess, however, that I am surprised that Sergey Brin is leading this latest charge.

Sergey Brin is the co-founder and Director of Special Projects at Google. He is worth $23 billion. His work and life story are in many ways an inspiration. Yet I believe he has betrayed us. Brin may think smartphones are emasculating. He may feel super-cool and extra-masculine wearing his Google glasses on the New York subway, but I am merely creeped out. You should be as well.

I think of this while relaxing in a large public courtyard in Southern Caifornia, soaking up the sun and pining for a mojito. Suddenly, and without warning, the place is overrun with about fifty middle schoolers. Gangly, goofy boys and pretty, uncertain girls. Wearing my sunglasses, just sunglasses, I realize what a violation Google Glass can be. Perhaps I should record these children – merely out in public; the boys chasing the girls, the girls teasing the boys till they chase them. I could then upload the video onto YouTube, this very moment, with their real-time location embedded. Perhaps a few of them I can stare at just long enough for my Google Glass to facetag them – then in nanoseconds have the Googleplex deliver any information on them directly to me.

How could Brin do this?

You want a continuous visual overlay between you and your fellow human beings, that’s your choice. I choose otherwise. Only, Google and Brin are now trying to strip me of my ability to choose. Google Glass is neither empowering, nor liberating. Rather, it is the tool of the stalker, or a device worn by the masses to ensure any upstart never thinks of straying from the popular line.

Brin has repeatedly noted that anti-Semitism, experienced inside the old Soviet Union, were what led his family to fortuitously make their way to America.

Imagine such a state with Google Glass. I am wearing my newest pair as you approach, I am instantly notified of your political views, your ethnicity, religion, any of your more provocative tweets, comments, or blog posts. This real-time, highly personalized device streaming information before my eyes suddenly guarantees I do not treat you in an unbiased manner — exactly the opposite, in fact. I already know why I suspect you. I already know why you are different.

It was Sergey Brin, and he has told us this many times, that forced the giant for-profit Google out of the world’s largest Internet market – China. That government’s efforts to censor web access and search results and to spy on dissidents smacked of the very “totalitarianism” that Brin claimed existed in his native Soviet Union. Now imagine a dissident simply trying to go about his business while those around him record his every move.

That is not freedom.

What has happened to so transform Brin’s values? Consider this Wall Street Journal interview from 2010:

Mr. Brin, who came to the U.S. from Russia at the age of 6 in 1979, said the compromises to do business in the world’s largest Internet market (China) had become too great. Finally, a cyberattack that the company traced to Chinese hackers, which stole some of Google’s proprietary computer code and attempted to spy on Chinese activists’ emails, was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

China has “made great strides against poverty and whatnot,” Mr. Brin said. “But nevertheless, in some aspects of their policy, particularly with respect to censorship, with respect to surveillance of dissidents, I see the same earmarks of totalitarianism, and I find that personally quite troubling.” The move appears to have left Google’s China business in jeopardy.

Over the objections of then-CEO Eric Schmidt, and at the cost of untold riches from the world’s largest Internet market, Brin refused, after a time, to cave against China’s censorship. He reversed Google’s policy, which till then allowed for censored results. Good for him. Of course, being opposed to censorship is not the war, only a battle. We are against censorship because we believe in individual freedom, liberty, the ability for a single person to fully and truly express themselves.

This is likely not possible in a world where Google Glass are available to geeks with $1,500 to spend.

Brin has urged the U.S. government, appealing directly to President Obama, to make the fight against  Internet censorship a “high priority”. But what about my right to go about my business? Why does he not care at all about that? What about the rights of a child that simply wants to play outside in the park? Or that gadfly neighbor who wants to speak with a old friend at the neighborhood coffee shop?

Brin has repeatedly called for an “open” Internet. Yes, it’s self-serving, as “open” always favors Google. Wherever open may not favor Google, such as in PageRank transparency and SEO algorithms, Google is as closed as a politburo caucus. But, it’s still possible Brin nonetheless actually believes in the value of open.With Google Glass, however, he’s perverted this notion. Everything and everyone is “open” – to Google’s prying and spying.

Google was once known by the maxim, “don’t be evil.” Eric Schmidt was asked what that meant and replied: “Evil is whatever Sergey says is evil.”

The destruction of our personal privacy, sadly, is not consider evil. Sergey would rather not be emasculated, but cares not one whit about are right to be closed.

In their 2004 IPO Letter, Brin and co-founder Larry Page wrote:

Our goal is to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible. In pursuing this goal, we may do things that we believe have a positive impact on the world, even if the near term financial returns are not obvious.

That Google is dead.

There is one way out of this, of course. We all go around wearing our Google glasses, spying on one another. That way, we are all equal. Except Google, obviously. Google will be more equal.

Author: Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology, immortality and food for ReadWrite, Techpinions, Unwired View and other publications. His thoughts on the 'smartphone wars' and how these are rapidly de-constructing markets, industries, business models and relationships around the world can be found on his personal site at www.brianshall.com.

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  • http://twitter.com/Gadheilweil Gad Heilweil

    few points.

    1. The privacy horse has been beaten to death already. It wont revive anytime soon, and no one (almost) cares.

    2. Google glass and google now are 2 examples of Google paying the user back for the data he gave them and not only the advertisers.

    3. Evil is subjective

    4.Google glass can be an amazing tool for freedom, Just imagine every cop or government employee knowing he is recorded all the time.

  • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

    Thanks for the comment! I have tried to make clear: this is a violation of the *non user’s* privacy. You may be happy to give up some of your personal information to Google in exchange for free or cheap services. Your choice. But you uploading a video of me onto YouTube, that face tags me and puts that into a real time map (and Google+) is a violation of my privacy. I made no bargain with Google.

  • http://www.nextpowerup.com/ Tarun Balraj

    There’s something called “privacy settings.” I’m sure the default privacy setting on Google Glass will be “share nothing,” not “share everything,” as will all services and social networks. The Glass can’t facetag people randomly, the person it’s trying to facetag should not only have their picture on a compatible social network, but should also have privacy settings enabling that facetag. The same applies to pretty much everything else.

    Glass could be a boon for law-enforcement.

  • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

    You have it backwards. The Google Glass wearer may choose to share everything or share nothing. What about the person being recorded?

  • http://www.nextpowerup.com/ Tarun Balraj

    The person being recorded is the source of the information, not the device the person is wearing. The device queries GooglePlex for information, which seeks out sources such as Google+, YouTube, Twitter, [insert network], for any information that the “person being recorded” volunteers.

  • Gabriel Braun

    Who are you? Why would anyone want to upload video of you besides your wife or children? Just have them sign your privacy agreement and you will be ok…

  • LTMP

    I’m with Brian on this one.

    It’s one thing to have the odd non geotagged photo of me taken in public show up here and there.

    Now imagine that millions of people are wearing G-glasses. My image, location, associates and my actions are accessible by Google. Even if the information isn’t shared anywhere else, Google will know everything that I do within sight of the glasses.

    No thank you.

  • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

    So true. Google is creating a product that violates non-user privacy.