The Smart Glass Dystopia Can Be Resisted

Jeremy Weissman, Washington and Lee University

2.07: Privacy, Surveillance & Facial Recognition

Chair: Jeremy Weissman


Silicon Valley is at the beginning of a major new push for smart glasses with Facebook set to release their first device this year and Apple and Samsung widely rumored to have their own products in the works as well. Widespread uptake of facial recognition augmented reality glasses could deliver a mortal blow to privacy and public anonymity altogether, ushering in a dystopia of “little brother,” a crowdsourced panopticon generated by the global public of ordinary smart glass users. With wearable cameras out on people’s faces, ready to shoot at the blink of an eye, one will become much less certain when one is being recorded and much more likely to be broadcast online at any moment. Through facial recognition technology, these recordings may also become automatically tagged with an individual’s name with any moment caught on camera thereby becoming attached to an individual’s online presence. Furthermore, through augmented reality, one’s digital self may effectively merge with one’s in-real-life (IRL) self as online information could be instantly recalled by looking at an individual while wearing a device with facial recognition capabilities. The “digital scarlet letter” of a ruined online reputation, or even just an unpopular one, would then in effect be worn as a scarlet letter electronically imposed upon the IRL self. In such an environment one may be on guard at all times, carefully monitoring oneself to assure conformity with prevailing norms since at any moment one’s collectively scored words or actions may be recorded and broadcast, becoming permanently attached to oneself wherever one goes. A world of ubiquitous smart glasses is seen by Silicon Valley as inevitable. But none of this is inevitable and we should not remain complacent. Rather, through a combination of technological, legal, and social measures such a chilling techno-social environment can be effectively resisted.