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The Etiquette of Wearable Technology

Wearable Tech privacy problems
Robert Scoble looks approachable with his Google Glass

Robert Scoble looks approachable with his Google Glass

After Sarah Slocum claimed she was attacked because she wore Google Glass (wearable computer in the form of an optical head-mounted display that looks like glasses) in a bar, volumes of people weighed in with their differing opinions. Many felt she had no right to infringe on the privacy of others by wearing her Glass in the bar, and others expressed that her right to wear Google Glass is no different than the right we all have to carry our mobile phones (that have cameras) wherever we go. Both sides are valid (see comments following the video footage she recorded with her Glass) but the lesson is that there is a responsibility and an implied code of etiquette that goes along with portable technology that has the ability to invade the privacy of others.

I’ve gotten great laughs from hidden camera footage of mischievous pets and from pranks played on innocent subjects. I’ve been upset by news of hidden cameras capturing abusive behavior by nannies and elder caregivers (because of the abuse, not because bad behavior was discovered via hidden camera) and I’m thrilled when I  learn of lives that have been saved and criminals who’ve been caught thanks to their camera debuts. Obviously there are pros and cons to hidden camera footage.

Today’s reality is that paparazzi cameras, cell phone cameras and surveillance cameras constantly invade privacy as they record willing and unwilling subjects – for good reasons and bad ones. These examples aside, there is something upsetting and offensive about innocently (or not so innocently) going about our personal daily activities and having our privacy invaded when we are photographed or filmed without our consent and for no apparent valuable purpose. (Sincere apologies go out to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi for capturing them in the background of our lunch photo below.)

Sorry Ellen and Portia.But it was fun seeing you anyway!

Sorry Ellen and Portia.But it was fun seeing you anyway!

A tad too much to drink? Photo by Doug Bowman

A tad too much to drink?
Photo by Doug Bowman

Herein lies Ms. Slocum’s problem. The people in the bar were not there to be the subject of her recordings. They were not celebrities whose fame goes hand-in-hand with being the objects of attention and curiosity wherever they go. Maybe the people around Ms. Slocum were in the bar to relax, unwind or socialize or perhaps they were there to engage in behavior best kept private? (Underage drinking, excessive drinking, illicit meetings, drunken inappropriate behavior, loose lips, etc.) It’s no wonder the patrons were upset by the potential of being recorded by Google Glass, but with mutual respect the situation needn’t have escalated to the unpleasant level it reached.

So let’s jump to a solution. If someone expresses discomfort in the presence of wearable technology, it would be a good idea for the wearer to put that person at ease or to remove the wearable technology. Recording subjects against their will is disrespectful (Can we agree celebrities are excluded or shall I keep apologizing to Ellen and Portia?) and likely to upset them. To mitigate negativity and avoid conflict, here are some concepts for wearers of technology devices such as Google Glass to consider:

  • Be transparent – if it isn’t obvious that wearable technology is in use, disclose it or make it obvious rather than getting caught breaching privacy
  • Be respectful; Don’t be a “Glasshole” – not sure who coined this term but I love it!
    • Expect people to stare and ask questions if you wear an uncommon form of wearable technology such as Google Glass or a Smartwatch.


      A watch with filming ability

    • Be prepared to answer questions patiently and politely.
    • Consider offering a demonstration of how the technology works – you could suddenly become a hero.
    • Ask for permission before taking photos or videos of people around you. (Again, sorry Portia and Ellen.)
    • Take off the technology and put it away if people express discomfort or ask you to do so.
    • Follow the rules – If you are asked to turn off cell phones or if cell phones and cameras are not allowed, the same applies to devices such as Google Glass, smartwatches or any other smart, wearable technology device.
    • If you do not want to be bothered by questions or approached when using unusual or uncommon wearable technology, take it off and put it away.

If, like me, you are one of the people who fear being photographed or secretly recorded by someone with wearable or portable technology, here are some thoughts:

  • Let’s get used to it because this trend is increasing and not going away anytime soon regardless of how we feel!
  • Let’s remember that users of wearable technology have just as much of a right to wear it as we have to carry our cell phones or tablets.
  • Let’s remember that we are free to request not to be filmed or recorded, or to remove ourselves from camera view, but a little politeness and respect is likely to go a long way.

With wearable technology unarguably on the rise, it is inevitable that we are all at increasing risk of being recorded without our knowledge. The conclusion may not be what you want to hear, but it is simple and obvious. Behave appropriately when you are in public and always act in a way that would not be a problem if you got caught on film.

Until next time,… Stay cyber safe!

15 replies
  1. Matt Steiner
    Matt Steiner says:

    The etiquette tips are really terrific. It’s unreal how all space is becoming ‘monitored space.’ The ways in which we are being monitored is imperceptible – it’s not just about wall-mounted security cameras anymore. I’m both excited and paranoid. 😉

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      I haven’t either, Christina. But I was at a doctor’s appointment yesterday when his watch started to ring. It was the first time I saw the Samsung Galaxy watch in action and it does not stand out. The doc didn’t answer his phone so I’m not sure how talking on the watch looks yet. LOL! It’s a different world – reminds of Agent 99 and Maxwell Smart talking into their shoes. But you may be too young to remember “Get Smart!”

  2. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    Hadn’t given it a thought until reading your article. I’ll be a little more aware of what’s going on around me and will pass it on to my kids. Cheryl

  3. Sarah Maizes
    Sarah Maizes says:

    I hadn’t even considered the implications of someone wearing the glasses to a bar or restaurant. You’re right, new technological advances require new etiquette. I promise not to be a Glasshole.

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      At least it’s hard to miss Google Glass. I’m far more worried about people with their Smartwatches. Although perhaps we’d notice something odd if someone starts to aim their watch in our direction. LOL!

  4. sean
    sean says:

    Great article. Insightful and easy to read. Makes lots of sense….of course people don’t have a lot of sense.


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