Could Google Glass Arm Activists in the Digital World?

WASHINGTON – Google Glass has become the must-have digital device for tech-savvy people, but some hope that the Internet-ready eyewear can provide innovative ways for anyone to engage in political advocacy and grassroots activism.

Google Glass is a wearable computer with a head-mounted display that lets users take photos and videos, search the Web, send texts, and use apps. The visor responds to voice commands and can also be operated via a touchpad located over the user’s right temple.

Glass takes mobile technology to the next level. Users do not have to pull their phones out of their pockets. They do not have to unlock it and go to the app they want. Instead, users can simply just say a command and the device will take a picture or record a video.

Since the company unveiled Glass in 2013, the wearable technology has been available to only a select few VIPs and developers, or “explorers,” as Google calls them, who want access to the device to design applications. The company says there are currently 10,000 so-called explorers.

The device went on sale to the general public on April 15. Google sold out of the device, which it made available on its website for $1,500, by the next day.

Speaking at the Cato Institute, Peter Ildefonso IV, web and database programmer at the Leadership Institute, said wearable technology allows everyone to become a documentarian by letting users capture more footage while moving around freely, without being “as obvious.”

“These devices are so discreet that many people won’t notice you’re wearing them until they directly focus on you,” Ildefonso said. “This is one huge benefit of these devices in addition to how quickly they can be accessed.”

Ildefonso believes that Glass, and other types of wearable technology, could become a powerful tool for activists by layering the devices’ features on top of what they are doing, whether walking around a protest or sitting at an event.

“Not only we can increase the number of activists, but also we can make those members more effective by training them on tools that they can use on the field,” Ildefonso said.

Glass has a number of critics. They criticize the unappealing design of the Internet-connected eyewear, and raise privacy concerns about people being recorded without their consent. Others complain about its role as a status symbol for the tech elite.

Glass has stirred up controversy, with several high-profile confrontations in San Francisco between users and skeptics making headlines. In particular, these altercations have become more prominent as part of a larger backlash against tech companies, such as Google, Twitter, and others, and gentrification in the city.

A study conducted by market research firm Toluna indicated that a majority of Americans are not interested in purchasing Google Glass due to concerns about personal privacy. Almost three-fourths of respondents said they would avoid wearing Glass in public, citing concerns about being mugged.

The tech giant has taken steps to convince consumers that its product is more than a niche gadget for techies.