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Google Glass vs. Your Right To Know You Are Being Photographed

Posted by Peter Post  December 3, 2013 07:00 AM

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I remember when I was a kid growing up, I saw advertisements for cameras that were so small that you could use one without others knowing their photos were being taken—spy cameras. Or, on the back of bubble gum wrappers, a camera that would let you see through a person’s clothes to the skeleton beneath. I always wondered what kind of scam those cameras were. Ever since the days of the portable and compact Brownie, cameras have had the ability to invade others’ privacy, to be used without the subject knowing they were being photographed.

Fast forward to the advent of the cell phone camera. Again, here’s a camera that is small, inconspicuous, and can be used secretively. My advice regarding cell phone cameras is that they shouldn’t be used in places where people don’t want to be photographed or don’t know they are being photographed, such as restrooms. You couldn’t be sure if the user was talking on the phone or shooting a picture of you during a private moment. Then, too, phones are being used intentionally to catch people in compromising positions. Think Michael Phelps.

Fast forward to today and you have the capability not only to take photos surreptitiously, but also to post them virtually immediately for the whole world to see. And that’s when you run into the problem of whose “rights” to privacy supercede whose.

  • Should we expect a certain level of protection against being “caught” or is it the right of the photographer to catch us unawares anytime, any place?
  • Is it reasonable for an establishment to ban the use of a device simply because it is possible for that device to be used to embarrass or image people without their acquiescence?

And therein is the conundrum faced at Lost Lake Café & Lounge in Seattle recently. A patron entered wearing Google Glass. He was asked to remove the Google Glass or leave the café. He chose to leave.

The owner saw a difference between using a camera—cell phone or otherwise— that other patrons could see being used as opposed to the Google Glass camera, which can be used to take photos or videos without others being aware they are being photographed.

While the jury is out on Google Glass etiquette, regardless of the kind of camera, the thoughtful, considerate thing to do is to let the subject know you are taking their picture and, if they object, then not to take it. In addition, before posting any image of somebody online, take a moment to ask if they mind if you share the image. If they do, then keep the photo to yourself or delete it.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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