Gobar Times
Open Forum

The Glass Ceiling

People. Privacy. Protocol. The Internet, they say, is about all this and more. But, ‘wearable’ computers are changing how much of our lives we share online. And who is keeping all our information safe?

With smart phones and social media, almost everything we do is online before you can even say ‘cheese’. While more of our lives are played out online, governments and agencies are wresting greater access to our private information on the Web. You must have heard how the US government-run security and intelligence agency National Security Agency (NSA) has been snooping on not only their own citizens, but also on international governments and foreign citizens. India was Number 5 on the list of most surveyed countries by NSA, it is reported.

    What is scarier is how dependent we are on the Internet. Children cannot remember a time when they were not online a lot. Can you think of any other way of searching for information other than web search? People are, on principle, armed with the latest gadgets – smart phones, laptops, digital notebooks. Social media boom has meant that we hang out in front of a screen a lot longer than we do with each other in person. So what’s next?

ghWearing skin-tight technology
 ‘OK Glass, take a picture.’ It can take a picture of what you are seeing with just a command, share it live and let you respond to comments to your picture with just a nod of your head. Translate your voice to other languages as you speak, find directions to places as you drive, speak to send a message, search for information as you think about it, take videos as you see it. All this in 5 exciting colours.

    Google Glass is a spectacle-shaped computer that you can wear. The brainchild of one of the owners of Google, Sergei Brin, it is operated by voice or movement. The
screen is right before your eyes, to the right-hand corner.  Seems like something out of a sci-fi movie? Well, it looks like that too…

    Tech-enthusiasts are excited as ever. In March, Google announced that it is looking for ‘Glass Explorers’ to test out the new technology for a price of $1,500 each. Thousands of technology-product analysts and enthusiasts wrote to Google asking to be the first owners of this revolutionary product. Google Glass is expected in international markets by the end of 2013.
    But, there are reasons to be cautious about ‘wearable tech’…

We are what we wear
dfThanks to smart phones and iPads, we are never offline. Wouldn’t wearable technology mean moving even further away from nature and our natural lives?

    We all already have friends who we hate for being constantly busy texting on their phones or compulsively updating their Facebook status. A wearable computer would mean we are always distracted – messages and alerts on Google Glass appear on a screen in front of your eyes.

    And would you know if someone is taking your picture with Google Glass when all he has to do is look at you and say ‘take a picture’?

Public display of information
Public and private spaces have morphed into each other. When will we know what sort of information about us is online and how do we regulate it? It was reported that an American technology journalist, asked to try out Google Glass by Google, went to a Starbucks coffee shop with a TV camera crew. The camera crew was not allowed to film inside the coffee shop, while the journalist continued filming using his Google Glass and the staff was none the wiser.

    How would Google Glass be different from closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance, you ask? If we are used to CCTV surveillance, we should be used to this. But with Google Glass, it is not 5,000 cameras being surveyed by security forces or the police. It is over 5 million cameras being surveyed by only one force – Google.

Packing consent
In the US, Google, along with Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and other technology companies, is currently refuting allegations of handing over their customer’s private information to the NSA. The NSA was set up to access and analyse intelligence records to protect the US from terrorists, post 9/11. Then why are they snooping on us?

    Last year, when the search engine giant fused its two privacy policies, information commissioners in Europe complained that this allowed Google ‘uncontrolled’ use of a user’s private data without their clear consent. Have you ever read through more than five lines of the crushingly-boring, painfully-lengthy End User’s License Agreement (EULA) before quickly scrolling to the ‘I Agree’ at the bottom? Can a child know what he/she is consenting to?

        So, who is looking out for us – the users of the Internet?

Step aside, it’s Super Scandal!
Governments are sidestepping the citizen’s right to privately surf the Internet. A former NSA employee blew the top on how NSA accessed information about private phone calls from phone services companies and user data of people’s online activity through a controversial programme called PRISM. This led to the biggest uproar yet about how civil liberties – freedom of speech and expression and freedom from unwarranted surveillance – are being undermined by the US government.

    Meanwhile, in India, the central government rolled out the Central Monitoring System (CMS) in April this year. CMS will provide direct access to all Internet and telecommunications records of the country’s 900 million mobile and landline users and 120 million Internet users to agencies like National Investigation Agency, bypassing service providers. CMS will “lawfully intercept Internet and telephone services", said then Information and Broadcasting Minister Milind Deora last year in Parliament. But international NGO Human Rights Watch alleges that not enough is known about legal procedures involved or what sort of agencies will handle such sensitive information.

Code of conduct
Access to innovations such as Google Glass would mean that we can easily publish our lives on the Web. Whereas governments, it seems, are gearing up to watch our every mouse click online. Well, getting online may soon involve codes other than those used by programmers to make web pages. You may need a code to indicate when you are not using Google Glass by wearing it around your neck. Governments must assure web-izens tighter norms regarding private data that curbs both government and corporations from misusing our information. Given the Indian government’s penchant for arresting people over Facebook posts, the Information Technology Act 2000 needs to be strengthened to suit the citizens, not the watchdogs.