The early criticism of Google Glass — that it’s for arseholes, that it will lead to a dystopian Panoptican nightmare — is mostly well-founded. But what everyone has glossed over in their opening salvos is, I think, the most immediate and obvious problem Google Glass will precipitate: once these things stop being a rich-guy novelty and start actually hitting the streets, the rise in creepshots is going to be worse than any we’ve ever seen before.
You know creepshots. Those are the surreptitiously snapped photographs of women — many of them very young women — made famous after becoming one of the most widely discussed and contested parts of Reddit, the internet’s favourite free-for-all. For a while, creepshots had their own subreddit on which men would gather to share sneakily photographed breasts and asses. There were women with their families at zoos, and women relaxing on beaches. One r/creepshots contributor was a high school teacher who would post pictures of his students.
Eventually the original “Creepshots” subreddit was banned, as was a copycat subreddit called “Creepsquad”, and another copycat called “Cshots”. Alas, just as shutting down crackhouses doesn’t stop people from smoking crack, creepshot fans have slinked off to other outlets to get their fill of pictures of women photographed without their consent. Twitter now has multiple creepshots feeds, and the Tumblr “creepshots” tag is lousy with smartphone pictures of butts. Even Reddit is back to hosting a creepshots subreddit, albeit under the guise of being a space for fashion criticism called “CandidFashionPolice” (it’s surely only coincidence that so many women’s outfits are photographed from behind, from the waist down).
Up until now, obtaining a creepshot has been a relatively simple endeavour, but one not entirely without risk. The ubiquitous nature of smartphones and the way people constantly engage with them are developments that ensure hardly anyone anymore gets suspicious when someone comes near them holding a recording device — they’re probably just checking Facebook, right? Still, there’s only so long a person can hold their iPhone at an awkward angle, and only so close they can get to you, before you realise that they’re photographing you and you put a stop to it.
This is where, in the right hands, Google Glass has the potential to be one of the more devious pieces of technology yet created. Because Glass allows a person to photograph and videotape whatever they’re looking at, hands free, the potential for creepshots skyrockets. When in the wrong person’s possession, Google Glass could make it so virtually every interaction a man has throughout the day becomes a creepshot, from staring down a cashier’s top at breakfast, to leering at his coworker’s cleavage, to glancing over at his daughter’s teacher’s arse after picking his kid up from school. Worse still, these women will have no idea they’re being photographed for some dude’s spank bank, because instead of a weirdo coming at them holding up a phone, they’ll just see a normal guy — their friend, their regular customer, their tennis partner — looking at them how they always do.
To hear men like Mark Hurst — president of the tech-consulting agency Creative Good and Glass doomsayer-in-chief — express terror at the next-level eavesdropping abilities Google Glass affords is reasonable to a degree, but they’re mostly just flattering themselves. Perhaps a celebrity like George Clooney should shudder at the thought of how Glass will make his life even more scrutinised than it already is, but the average man just isn’t interesting enough, at least not in the way that would find strangers on the subway desperate to record their every move.
The real victims of Google Glass are going to be women, who have long suffered the ogles of strange men. Glass, however, is going to supercharge those ogles, turning them into images that can last a lifetime on an unfamiliar person’s computer, only to be passed around the creepshots forums that currently exist and ones that have yet to be birthed. Men are already taking advantage of women every day with their bulky smartphones. When the cameras are sitting snugly and indiscreetly on their faces, it will only get worse.
When I emailed Google to ask about the impending explosion of creepshots in the wake of Glass, a spokesperson gave me this statement: “It is still very early days for Glass, and we expect that as with other new technologies, such as mobile phones, behaviours and social norms will develop over time.”
The statement is right, if only because a social norm is a far cry from a social good. When mobile phones were first released, who could have expected that eventually they’d be used to shoot secret photos of young women that men would then share on the internet and masturbate to? I expect nothing less from Google Glass.