Google Glass and the Ethics of Information

Tianyi Cheng

Google Glass is finally for sale to the public. It is a good timing to take a look at what we can see with it. Google Glass is sending us new package of information. However, by unpacking it, I don’t think the information is largely different from what we received before on the levels of symbols, syntax and message.


Combination might be a key to figuring out realistic mechanisms of invention and evolution of technology (Arthur, 2009). If we took apart Google Glass, we would find assemblies and subassemblies that can be found somewhere else. The chips consisted of innumerous transistors, run Boolean Logic that presents the sign system, or symbols, as what computers started presenting more than half a century ago. Chips are just becoming more tightly packed, which complies with Moore’s Law. This observation can explain half of the reason that why this smart glasses couldn’t appear decades earlier although humans already had this idea. Codes were written as rules for assembling symbols at syntax level. It helps the Glass to make information in fixed formats and transfer data with established protocols. The ambient sensor, proximity sensor, motion sensor were around us long before. Touchpad, small-sized camera and voice commands are not strange too. These and other feedback devices work with Internet and satellites, receiving and generating messages that combined symbols and syntax. These messages accord with the existing measures from authorities, industrial pacts or social traditions. Google Glass was locked into the standardized world.

But it is still a new technology. It makes change on the semantics level by re-arranging many human and non-human actors and relinking the networks. Google Glass shows us an augmented reality, and is also intertwined into the ethic problem in reality. One main reason that Google Glass started controversial discussion is about the ethics of the augmented information, which can be viewed from the semantics level. I think morality can be a topic related to distributed cognition, which also influenced by external cognitive artifacts and activities in concrete situations (Zhang & Patel, 2006). The book, Information, A Very Short Introduction provides an interesting mode to de-blackboxing Google Glass from the perspectives of ethics. As a human actor existing in the infosphere, the Glass brings us more immediate relationship with the once-hidden information.

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Considering information-as-a resource ethics, the previously mentioned censors, GPS systems and Internet connection remediate information that gathered in the past and present to us together with the new information in time. It has the potential to let us see a department’s information outside the school buildings. Socrates argued that a well-informed agent is more likely to do the right thing (Floridi, 2010). However, more information doesn’t necessarily mean that we deal with them justly. A better prediction might also let us pursue more self-interest goals. And we might even make more prejudiced judgments by seeing others’ public profiles. Also, Socrates lived in an era that people weren’t aware of infoglut. Google Glass might let second-hand information largely influence our direct experience. It is worthy to consider that how to create more effective filters to only provide certain types of information.

From the perspective of information-as-a-product ethics, people wear Google Glass can also produce information with cameras and voice command devices. The information can be sent via Bluetooth (connecting to some other devices) or WiFi (connecting to the Internet). As an information producer, we may be subject to constraints while being able to take advantage of opportunities (Floridi, 2010). With the constraints of current technology, we can’t edit video or pictures before sending them away directly from Google Glass. So, one interesting topic can be “can we lie with Google Glass?”. Does it force us to tell the truths? Will Google Glass become an important information source on social media or courts, and be considered to own better accountability and liability than information sent from iPhones or PCs?

The third aspect is information-as-a-target ethics, it includes a human actor’s respect for, or breach of someone’s information privacy or confidentiality, for example, hacking (Floridi, 2010). However, I don’t think Google Glass have very good capacity to get unauthorized access to private information systems. Of course, it can take pictures without consents, but this activity is at a visible level, which can be more easily regulated then hacking with codes. Conversely, it can be harder to notice that the camera on your Google Glass has been hacked. Currently, the Glass can’t be used in a very personalized way and can only execute certain applications, unless it is linked to other devices. In this term, I think Google Glass owners are more likely to be victims rather than victimizers.

In addition, I don’t think this mode represents the whole story. For example, GPS microchip allows Google Glass to determine its location via satellite signals. The location is not merely product or resource, but information shared in the infosphere.

Google glass is not widely used currently, and the innovation of technology is socially and culturally rooted, so its mediation functions need further observations. Although it is matured to go to market, it might be still at a new starting point on its recursive process.

  Works Cited

Arthur, Brian. The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. NY: Free Press, 2009.

Floridi, Luciano. (2010). Information: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

Google glass. (2013, March 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:35, April 15, 2014, from

Zhang, J., & Patel, V. L. (2006). Distributed cognition, representation, and affordance. Pragmatics & Cognition14(2).