Applications to Emerging Technologies

Recently, two emerging technologies came to the mass market: Google Glass and Drones. As the use of these new technologies increase, questions arise about how to appropriately use these devices. Specifically, there are ethical questions regarding privacy rights, piracy issues, and individual and public safety.

Google Glass Users can easily control this new wearable technology using the touch pad and voice instructions to take photos and record HD videos. There are also new applications developed by third parties that enable the user to have more exciting experiences.

Let's see a beautiful day with Google Glass.

Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are becoming popular tools for both companies and individuals to carry out a variety of tasks including package delivery, surveillance, and as a platform for providing telecommunication services. Amazon and Google in particular have invested funds into researching the use of drones as delivery platforms.

Currently on Amazon, the price of UAVs/drones range from about $30 to a few thousand dollars. Most are sold with a HD video camera.

YouTube is filled with videos of such devices recording various events around the world.

While these new technologies can provide entertaining and useful content, they also pose dangers due to reckless use and invasion of privacy. Ethical problems have been raised with regards to privacy rights, property rights, and the rights of individuals to partake in any activity they prefer so long as they are not harming others.

Latest News: Google has announced it will stop producing Google Glass in its present form.

The official homepage of Google Glass


Libertarianism applied to Google Glass

“Libertarians claim that each of us has a fundamental right to liberty-the right to do whatever we want with the things we own, provided we respect other people’ rights to do the same."Unless the use of Google Glass hurt other’s rights, such as using glass to spy on other people, cheat in exams or casinos and so on, the government should not regulate or prohibit using Google Glass.

“Libertarians argue that such laws (seat belt laws and motorcycle helmet laws) violate the right of the individual to decide what risks to assume.” (P60) Similiar in this case, from the perspective of libertarians, restricting people from using Google Glass while driving is a violation of individual’s right to liberty. The government has no right to prohibit people from driving while using Google Glass through legislation because people are free to take the risks with their bodies and lives “as long as no third parties are harmed”.

Libertarianism applied to drones:

“Libertarians believe that individuals have the right to do whatever they want with their property, whether that property is an object or one’s own body...” The personal use of drones should not be restricted. The use of a drone, which is an individual’s own property, is that individual’s right to use as they please. “Each of us has a fundamental right to liberty - the right to do whatever we want with the things we own, provided we respect other people’s rights to do the same.”

However, "individuals are not free to violate others’ property” and “the government must employ military, police, or judicial functions to punish individuals who violate others’ liberty.” If a person’s use or the commercial application of drones infringes on another person’s property or liberty, then it is deserving of punishment. Say, for example, a drone flying low over a person’s property and interfering with their life would be a violation. But flying at what altitude should be considered a nuisance? Or should a different metric be used (ex: ability to record video, excessive noise)?

Ethical Problems of Google Glass and Drones

1. Rights to use these Technologies vs. Privacy Rights

  • Do I have the right to wear Google Glass wherever I go?

A number of bars and casinos have already explicitly banned Google Glass due to privacy concerns. However, these same businesses wouldn’t dare to ban smartphones, all of which take photos and video, because everyone carries them. Should there really be no-Glass zones?

  • Can the press use Google Glass/Drones to take photos or videos of people?

The Press Complaints Commission code prevents the use of ‘hidden cameras’ unless there is demonstrable public interest. Glass certainly counts as a hidden camera: a journalist should not ‘pinpoint’ anyone without their consent.

Glass is also likely to count as ‘subterfuge’ under the PCC code. In this case, a journalist could only use images in the public interest, and only if the material could not be obtained another way.

UAVs likewise present ethical issues for journalists, as they can be used to track individuals or enter and record areas that would normally be off-limits. Such use could cause a conflict between freedom of the press and the right of privacy of individuals.

  • Can I use send my UAV/drone wherever I want to film whatever I want?
  • Can I identify/change/erase you without your consent?

The devices also are seen as posing a privacy threat by making it harder than ever for people to remain anonymous. Earlier this year, one app developer designed a facial recognition app, NameTag, which allows Glass wearers to scan faces of strangers against known databases of faces. Google officially bans facial recognition apps on Google Glass, but people who tinker with the device’s software can get around the restrictions.

2. Rights to use these Devices vs. Intellectual Property Rights

Google Glass is now banned in US movie theaters as it has become a potential threat that could result in piracy issues. Policy states that any recording devices must be turned off and put away at show time. The MPAA and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) stress that they welcome technological innovations and recognize the importance of wearable technology for consumers. However, the piracy enabling capabilities of these devices can’t be ignored.

Similarly, questions have risen about the use of UAVs at outdoor venues, like sporting events and concerts. Although U.S. law already addresses some of the issues of recording such events, enforcement can be difficult. There is also the concern of devices being flown over areas where companies conduct sensitive operations that could be seen as trade secrets.

There have been a growing number of incidents of UAVs/drones appearing in areas where they have caused concerns of invasion of privacy.

3. Rights to use these Devices vs. Safety

These two devices have raised individual and public safety problems as well. The concern regarding Google Glass is whether it is a distraction while driving, since people use it both in vision and voice. It is similar to using a touchscreen device because it will also easily distract people's attention from focusing on driving, which may result in serious traffic accidents. We could neither ignore the facts that UAVs may crash and hit someone if it is out of control, while some people may also use them to do harm to the public on purpose. There is increasing need to control and manage such new technologies in terms of public safety protection.

4. Rights to use UAVs vs. Environmental Protection

Drones could be used for administrative purposes such as wildlife conservation, fire operations and scientific study. On the other side, it could be used for hunting.

Moreover, the crash of drones may pollute or damage a potentially sensitive environment.

5. Rights to use UAVs vs. Modern Warfare

Possible Solutions

  • Education: Increase the awareness of these ethical problems. The companies who developed such new technologies and the media should take some responsibility of public education. The customers and public have the rights to know both the advantages and the risks of the products. This ties well to Kant's theory that people should do the right thing for the right reason, and respect people as ends.
  • Regulation: Since the legal system does not keep up with the high speed of development of technology, the government needs to take actions to ensure that these products will be used safely. According to Aristotle's theory, politics should serve for the common good, and care for the fate of the community as a whole.


Questions for Class Discussion

  • Is the Libertarian response to not regulate or restrict the use of drones or Google Glass for personal use as long as they don’t infringe on other’s right to liberty sustainable? Is it really possible to use a drone or Google Glass in a way that doesn’t have the potential to impact others? What role should the government play in ensuring peoples’ rights are not violated?
  • What is the difference between taking pictures and videos using cameras, smartphones, a drone or Google Glass? Is the concern of ethical problems of Google Glass or drones just an issue of timing? Because when cameras were invented, people thought it was unethical to take pictures on the street, too.
  • Which right do you prefer? The right of using the drone or Google Glass? Or the right of protecting your privacy?
  • Other possible solutions?

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