An open and privacy-respecting design for a Snap Spectacles alternative

Doc Searls
Dec 26, 2016 · 5 min read
Recording glasses should default to appreciating the privacy of others — and do other cool things as well.

For many years I’ve wanted glasses that would help me observe and record what I see and hear in the world — but in a polite way that would respect the privacy of others. Since nobody has made anything like that (that I know of) I decided to publish my idea, back in January of ’14, back when Google Glasses were all the rage (in more than one meaning of the word, since they were famously oblivious to the privacy of others).

I immodestly called my idea “Searls Glasses,” because the first four letters of my surname, as luck has it, combines “see” and “hear” (or “ear”) — and because they’re still glasses as well. Besides, I was in a rush and didn’t think of a better name. And it doesn’t matter because I don’t care. Call them what you want. Far as I’m concerned, this is one of those patentable ideas that actually belongs in the public domain. That’s the main reason I’m putting it here.

Anyway, now that Snapchat has come out with its Spectacles

…and the feature set seems to be rather limited (even though they do look way cool, and quite promising — at least to me), seems like a good time to re-vet my original feature set, either to guide competitive developers, or to urge Snapchat toward something that does a helluva lot more (and a lot more respectfully) than their first effort. Here are the call-outs for the numbers next to the glasses above:

  1. First-person rindicator (a light indicating a state of willingness to relate, or presence of a relationship)
  2. Second/third person rindicator (a light indicating a state of relationship with a nearby second or third party).
  3. Binocular (3D) cameras.
  4. Off/on light. Green means it’s not recording. Red means it is recording.
  5. Binaural microphones (one in each tyne) and electronics section, plus all the other required circuitry (recording, bluetooth, battery).
  6. Earphones.

Rindicators (#s 1 and 2) are what we’ve been calling “r-buttons” in the VRM development community. I re-named them on the plane where I cooked up this whole idea and wrote it down. How they work and what they symbolize are still up in the air. UI elements that indicate actions and/or states of relating are essential, I believe — not just here, but in countless other kinds of hardware and software.

Binocular cameras (#3) are way cooler than the usual monocular ones (such as Google Glass’s). Hey, our eyes and glasses are already 3-D. Why not the cameras we wear on our heads?

These, however, have an additional feature: they look for second-party signals of privacy policies. So, for example, if Searls Glasses see somebody wearing one of these Customer Commons buttons —

— with a QR code in the middle, and the scanned QR code says “don’t take my picture or video-record me,” that wish will be respected. Same goes for a button containing a near-field transmitter that says the same thing. This is an example of something Google Glass and Snapchat Spectacles both lack: Privacy By Design. (For more context, see Big Privacy, a paper highly influenced by work many of us have been doing with VRM.)

The on-off light (#4) tells others whether the cameras are on and recording what they see.

I am amazed, now that headphones are at high fashion ebb, that we don’t hear much about binaural recording, and no smartphones or tablets feature it yet. Maybe Snapchat (or some competitor) can change that. In the meantime, find some binaural sound recordings and listen to them, on headphones. They are much different than conventional stereo recordings, because only two microphones are used, typically located on a bust — a mannequin head — in the positions of human ears. That way they record what a person hears, rather than what a sound engineer puts together with a mixer. The effect is the aural equivalent of 3-D images: the whole “sound stage” is very much a you-are-there-360°-on-all-axes experience. In other words, better than 3D. With my design here, you can make your own binaural recordings, thanks to binaural microphones over the ears (#5). Lights on the tynes will also tell others whether or not you are recording: another example of privacy by design.

I think the best way to record, and to manage everything these glasses make possible, is with a smartphone or tablet app, connected by bluetooth. Ideally it would be a great app on its own merits, but not lock the person into any one company’s closed, locked and proprietary feudal system. (Such as Google’s and Snapchat’s.)

As a bonus, my design would also pick up low-energy bluetooth signals, and radiate them as well. Much has been said and written lately about these. (By my friend Robert Scoble especially.)

But, instead of thinking about how marketers can use these beacons, , think about what you can do with them. For example: sending signals of your own interest in some product or service — or your disinterest in being followed right now, while you’re shopping. Or telling the store you’re in that you don’t want to be followed, turning off surveillance of marketing spyware (or at least requesting that your preferences be respected).

I’d like to know what you think, but I also think what developers do with this idea (or the ideas it spurs) is more important.

You’re welcome.

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Doc Searls

Written by

Author of The Intention Economy, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Fellow of CITS at UCSB, alumnus Fellow of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.

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how hackers start their afternoons.