Web Directions Conferences for web and digital professionals

How does your app affect the UX of everyone else in the world?

Many of us have been wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth at PRISM, the NSA, the seemingly inexorable encroachment of state surveillance into our lives and the end of privacy as we have come to know it. I read somewhere that sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have increased by 200% since Edward Snowden’s exposure of the PRISM program last week. Fair enough.

But state surveillance is at least something we can have a chance of controlling. (Re)introducing judicial oversight of what data is collected, how it is stored, who it can be accessed by, what it can be used for and so on – this is all at least imaginable, even today.

But what about surveillance by your fellow citizens, whether done with malice or otherwise. Consider the following, excerpted from The Google Glass feature no one is talking about:

First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google’s own cloud of servers. Now add in facial recognition and the identity database that Google is building within Google Plus (with an emphasis on people’s accurate, real-world names): Google’s servers can process video files, at their leisure, to attempt identification on every person appearing in every video. And if Google Plus doesn’t sound like much, note that Mark Zuckerberg has already pledged that Facebook will develop apps for Glass.


Finally, consider the speech-to-text software that Google already employs, both in its servers and on the Glass devices themselves. Any audio in a video could, technically speaking, be converted to text, tagged to the individual who spoke it, and made fully searchable within Google’s search index.

Connected the dots yet?

It’s not a stretch to imagine that you could immediately be identified by that Google Glass user who gets on the bus and turns the camera toward you. Anything you say within earshot could be recorded, associated with the text, and tagged to your online identity. And stored in Google’s search index. Permanently.


The really interesting aspect is that all of the indexing, tagging, and storage could happen without the Google Glass user even requesting it. Any video taken by any Google Glass, anywhere, is likely to be stored on Google servers, where any post-processing (facial recognition, speech-to-text, etc.) could happen at the later request of Google, or any other corporate or governmental body, at any point in the future.

I’ll leave you to ponder the endless implications of this: you might be some time :). And good luck with judicial oversight: I mean here in Australia at least we can’t even get Google to pay taxes.

The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience – it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.

Bringing it back to our everyday lives as developers and designers today though, this really made me think of some of the words in Ben Hammersely‘s, and Jon Kolko‘s keynotes from Web Directions South last year. So, what kind of world is your app creating, not just for your users, but for all of us?

Postscript prediction: Camouflaging makeup to trick facial recognition software, as referenced in James Bridle’s Waving at the Machines, will be the new cool.

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Going to #wds18 has given me inspiration to attend more conferences. Meeting tech folks like myself and learning from each other is pretty amazing!

Hinesh Patel Ruby and React Developer

Join us in 2019:

  • Web Directions Design 2019

    Australia's design conference with the world's leading expert

    Melbourne April 11 & 12 2019

  • Web Directions Code 2019

    Australia's conference for JavaScript and Front End Engineers

    Melbourne June 20 & 21 2019

  • Web Directions Product 2019

    Australia's conference for Product professionals

    Melbourne August 1 & 2 2019

  • Web Directions Summit 2019

    Our legendary event. Two big tracks, one Product/Design, one Developer focused.

    Sydney November 2019