Google introduced a tiny lifelogging camera yesterday at its Pixel 2 event. Called Clips, the little device can be held, clipped or set down while it uses artificial intelligence and facial recognition to “capture beautiful, spontaneous images” of your life. As with most cameras intended to constantly record you, a lot of people’s first instinct was: Holy crap this is creepy.
But to be fair, it’s no creepier than a bunch of similar gadgets that came before it. Narrative, for instance, was a tiny lifelogging camera, and unlike Google Clips’ three-hour active battery life, it could capture information for up to two days in a far more discrete package. Amazon’s Echo Look may not be constantly taking photos of you, but it’s supposed to go in your bedroom, arguably one of the most intimate places to put a camera in your household. And that isn’t counting the cameras and microphones in your laptops, tablets and smartphones. If you think Clips is an invasion of privacy, you’re not wrong. But it’s all just a drop in the bucket compared to your already heavily-surveilled lifestyle.
People willingly sacrifice their privacy and adopt creepy products into their lives when they prove to be useful enough. Facebook functions because it mines your data to sell ads, and the company is frighteningly skilled at detecting people you might already know, or might want to meet. But you haven’t deleted your Facebook account yet, have you? And if you did, have you stopped googling, too? If you use the internet, and if you have a phone, you’re almost certainly being tracked.
The unique utility of Clips is unclear to me today. What ultimately matters about this device is not whether people are creeped out by it; it’s whether Google can actually provide users with something of value. If it’s good, people have shown they will gladly give up their privacy.
And Google has to convince people that they need to lifelog, a mostly useless trend that at best seems to be holding on by a thread. It’s already impossibly simple to capture moments with the phone you carry in your pocket at all times.
Google Clips is targeting parents and pet owners, with the success of the device contingent on their eagerness to document more hours of their lives. It’s more sophisticated than current lifelogging cameras; it will use both machine learning to curate your moments as well as facial recognition to automatically single out the people (and cats and dogs) you spend the most time with. And if Google really can churn out amazing photos and perfect short videos that users really love, it won’t matter if the Clips camera feels reminiscent of 1984.
No, creepiness won’t kill Google’s Clips, but if its AI doesn’t deliver, and if Google can’t think of a good reason why more people should suddenly start lifelogging, then irrelevance surely will.