On an HP prototype wearable camera, and issues of privacy.

Travis Bickle would have liked these camera specs from HP:

A prototype pair of sunglasses with a camera built in to them has been created by Hewlett Packard researchers.

“It means you now have a wearable camera which nobody will notice and can take pictures while being involved in events,” said Huw Robson from Hewlett Packard.

The article picked up the story from BBC radio show “Gone Digital” (blogged by the host here).

Unlike some wearables, these actually look pretty decent– like a pair of Oakleys, not like a camera duct-taped to your head.

The article (and the blog entry) both have the usual, almost-by-now-boilerplate expression of privacy concerns over small recording devices like these. I’ve blogged before about cellphone cameras being used in some, shall we say, inappropriate ways. But I confess I find the discussion of privacy frustrating, in a way I can’t quite articulate. I don’t buy Scott McNealy’s “You have no privacy, get over it” claim: privacy does and will continue to exist, though its precise boundaries are always a subject of argument.

Maybe it’s that most example people bring up revolve around obvious, egregious misbehavior– spying on people in the bath, for example– which seem pretty clearly wrong, and probably solvable without too much difficulty. The addition of the camera “click” in cellphone cameras is an example: it’s a way of announcing that a camera is in your vicinity. The Register recently reported a system for disabling cameras in cell phones and PDAs, by broadcasting the equivalent of “turn camera off, please” signals. (Of course, the camera would need to be able to pick up the signal.) The bottom line is, companies know this is an issue.

Schemes to disable cameras in specific areas raise an interesting issue: should cell phone camera pictures be treated as photographs, or are they more like text messages or personal notes? Are they images that can in some way serve as permanent records of, or sometimes even proxies of, things in the world? Or are they images whose purpose is to serve as reminders, memory aids, or tokens in communication with friends? This becomes a live issue in places like sports arenas, where photography is currently banned, but cell phones are not. Sending my wife a photo of Barry Bond knocking one out into McCovey Cove doesn’t make me a competitor to Sports Illustrated, and I’ll bet Pac Bell Park would think twice before confiscating every ticketholder’s Nokia. Likewise, taking a picture of a dust jacket rather than writing down the author’s name and title strike me as equivalent activities, even though they use different technologies.

Then there’s a practical issue to consider. Even as cellphone cameras get better, the pictures that amateurs take won’t compete with those of professionals. To return to Pac Bell Park, those of us in the stands too far away from the action, don’t know how to frame the picture, and don’t have enough experience with sports journalism to create anything that’ll be of more than personal, and likely fleeting, interest. Access to better technology doesn’t turn you into someone who can better use the technology: countless teenage boys who’ve spent their hard-earned summer job money to buy that Stratocaster have discovered that Hendrix and Clapton are better than the rest of us because they’re better, not because their guitars are better.

[via die puny humans]