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A conversation about privacy

The truth is found between the lies

Over a glass of wine at his house the other week, my friend Alex and I started talking about Google Glass and privacy.

We agreed that pretty soon, Glass will be able to surreptitiously photograph your face, work out who you are, and display information about you to the Glass wearer. All without you knowing.

And if Glass doesn't end up doing that quite soon, another device from another company will. Maybe Google will decide it's too dangerous a path to tread, but if they do, there will be plenty of other companies with no such qualms. That space will be filled one way or another.

So we stuck with that assumption and moved on. Assuming anyone can find out everything about you simply by taking a photograph of your face as you walk down the street, what are the implications?

Alex said: "Well if you've put personal information about yourself all over the internet, you've already forgone privacy. That data is public. You've put it all on LinkedIn and Google crawled it, so you can't complain if Glass - or something like it - matches your face to that data."

"You might put information about yourself online, and it's public, but that doesn't mean your face needs to be attached to it," I countered.

"It's just like handing out a business card," said Alex. "If you give me a business card, you're giving me enough information about yourself for me to find out more about you online. Face recognition saves the handing-out-cards bit."

"It's not the same as handing out a card," I replied. "Handing your card to someone is an explicit act of granting permission: Here's my card, I want you to know who I am. But simply walking down the street and having a face isn't the same at all."

Alex waved his hand.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "If any of your personal data is online, you should expect people to be able to match it to your face sooner or later. You won't be able to stop people taking photos of you with their glasses. Your only choice will be to not put your personal data on the internet in the first place."

I don't like it, but I think he's right.

(18th June 2013)