Comic XKCD Nails Google Glass Critics (Especially Congress)

insight-xkcdEveryone has an opinion about Google Glass. Some fears are justified since, as a culture, we don’t have a pristine history of social etiquette always catching up to technology (see: loud-mouth cellphone users). But, as XKCD points out, this doesn’t absolve us of the right to say something intelligent and offer a reasonable path forward as we inevitably march towards heads-up display technology in some form. By far the worst offender of question-only criticism has come from the U.S. Congress Privacy Caucus, which sent a passive-aggressive list of queries directly to CEO, Larry Page [PDF].

“Because Google Glass has not yet been released and we are uncertain of Google’s plans to incorporate privacy protections into the device, there are still a number of unanswered questions that we share,” wrote eight congressmen, along with the email of an assistant that Mr. Page could conveniently submit his answers to.

Some of the questions were already publically answered (which, ironically, could have been found out with a simple Google search). Google has no short-term intention of using facial recognition technology. They have it, but scrapped adding it as a feature for Glass.

Other questions like “has Google considered making any additions or refinements to its privacy policy?” have an obvious answer: yes, of course they considered it.

As The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart points out (below), the problem with exploiting insinuation, rather than specific analysis, is that it permits anyone to criticize anything without evidence. “If what you’re saying is true, if the president let Americans die for political reasons, then, by God, bring us the evidence and we will grab the pitchforks and torches along with you.”

The Onion had its own gem poking fun of question-hyped criticism, slamming the Obama administration for not vocally condemning the obviously non-existent “Basilisk Project”:

“Perhaps our president hopes to escape the moral implications of having allowed the Basilisk Project to operate under his nose, believing that his hands are clean. Or perhaps Mr. Obama is hoping that the American people might actually believe he was somehow unaware of the Basilisk Project altogether. Then again, perhaps you, “President” Obama, are, indeed, the puppet here. Which begs the question: Just who is pulling your strings?”

In most instances, Google can’t answer for things that haven’t happened yet. Glass is an evolving technology. It’s already been hacked to secretly record bystanders, so there’s legitimate concerns. But, critics can’t pound their chest in public with a lazy list of questions.

As Jeff Jarvis points out, local governments were mulling bans on technology, at least since the Kodak camera. Teddy Roosevelt briefly banned cameras in Washington parks. Yet, Kodak, like cellphone cameras, haven’t caused the privacy apocalypse fear-mongerers imagined.

Congress has an ability to create national headlines, whether they say anything insightful or not. With this great power comes great responsibility. Congress should hold themselves to a higher standard and not be permitted to insinuate wrongdoing without any actual evidence.