Blinders For Google Glass - InformationWeek

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Blinders For Google Glass

Cyborg Unplug promises to boot Google Glass and other surveillance devices from local networks.

Eavesdropping On A New Level
Eavesdropping On A New Level
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

At the end of the month, foes of Google Glass, wireless webcams, and other network-depended devices associated with surveillance will have a turnkey weapon to deter unwanted spying.

Cyborg Unplug is a wireless network security device developed by Julian Oliver, an artist and developer based in Berlin, Germany, who is among the creators of the Critical Engineering Manifesto. Scheduled for release at the end of September in two versions for less than $100, it is a small box about the size of Apple TV that scans for specified network hardware identifiers. Then, depending which version is being used, the device either displays an alert or automatically disconnects the device from the network.

Cyborg Unplug is a hardware version of Oliver's script, code released earlier this year that allows Linux devices like a Raspberry Pi to scan for the unique MAC address prefix Google has assigned to its Glass headsets and to force them them off the local network.

Though Google has made an effort to clarify that Glass isn't always recording video, provides a visible indicator of recording (unlike a mobile phone), and is obvious (unlike many video capturing devices), its outreach efforts have failed to win over everyone. Oliver attributes the genesis of his script to technologist Omer Shapira's dissatisfaction with the presence of someone wearing Glass at a NYU gallery show.

On the Cyborg Unplug website, Oliver and collaborator Samim Winiger insist Glass discrimination is legal, in some circumstances. "It is perfectly legal to block certain devices from using a network you control and administer," they explain. "Some wireless routers allow an administrator to create blacklists, although generally they are limited to specific devices rather than an entire product."

[Will Cyborg Unplug work on Apple iDevices? Read Apple To Dominate Wearables Through 2016: Forrester]

It isn't legal to use the device to boot devices from a network you don't administer, which Cyborg Unplug could do. Oliver and Winiger caution against doing this.

The device isn't foolproof. Cyber Unplug does not stop surveillance; it only denies network access, which will prevent streaming and sharing, temporarily. Also, Glass users may prefer to tether their devices to their smartphones to access their mobile carriers network. Cyborg Unplug may be able to sniff Bluetooth packets in the future, though probably not legally.

But legality aside, is device discrimination a good idea? Do we want other individuals and entities banning certain devices from their networks because they ostensibly "pose a risk to privacy"? Might we not be better off instead urging device makers to develop more privacy-friendly recording functions?

Asked in an email how he reconciled support for open source software and the Internet's open access principles with opposition to specific technologies like Google Glass, and whether he believed other entities, such as Comcast, should follow his example and deploy technology to limit the presence of specific devices on their network, Oliver took issue with question.

"I don't believe that is a useful or logical comparison," Oliver said. "It's not Glass itself that is opposed so much as certain uses of it; abuses that compromise the basic rights and trust of others."

Noting that the sense of violation one would feel from being videotaped in a restaurant and having that video streamed online comes from the obviousness of the act, Oliver warned that it is becoming ever harder to know when our privacy rights are being abused as small network-capable microphones, cameras, and devices like Glass proliferate.

"Cyborg Unplug is not an assault on devices like Glass in themselves," Oliver said. "Rather, it is akin to an alarm system and security guard; a reinforcement of territory and rights in an era where it's increasingly difficult to know when one's privacy is being compromised. Summarily, I consider Cyborg Unplug to be a positive, tactical response to a growing and widely felt social issue, one born from the technologically-enabled abuse of mutual, human respect."

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
9/12/2014 | 8:57:39 AM
Re: Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!
You are absolutely right David and the problem is we can't do anything even if we have noticed. In many cases we are just surrendering our information to them willingly without even troubling the viewers of our truman show. And all these devices and IOT is helping them to increase the cast of the show and also keep an eye on the supporting actors as well.
User Rank: Ninja
9/12/2014 | 8:48:32 AM
Re: glass and other technologies can be used as 1984 in reverse
That seems to be a good idea but I don't see it to be practical anywhere in near future. Currently we are at the receiving side where government doesn't even share with us that to what extent they capturing our data. How can we expect them to share their information with us, in my opinion it is just like trying to reverse the waterfall.
User Rank: Apprentice
9/10/2014 | 9:26:06 AM
thanks but no thanks
I get where the inventor is going with this product but the reasoning behind "the why" just doesn't add up.  For example...


1. Oliver claims the inspiration was "Omer Shapira's dissatisfaction with the presence of someone wearing Glass at a NYU gallery show".  In general, any recording device at a gallery is a considered a no-no.  I've yet to encounter any artisit or exhibit hall encourage the use of taking photos.  So why is Google Glass different than smartphones with cameras or just a plain old camera?  Hint: It's not.  It's just another recording device. If there's a concern over recording, than make it a clear, visible policy when entering the gallery (or any other venue where this is an issue) that no recording is allowed.


2. Olver states  "It is perfectly legal to block certain devices from using a network you control and administer".  Yes, it's legal but not legitimate for the simple reason that a user (excluding hackers) can't be on your network unless they are explicitly invited (using a created and assigned account) or implicitly invited (by enabling a guest wireless network).  Explicit invites are relatively clear, but let's address the implicit type.  When an admin enables a "guest" wireless network, whether they realize it or not, they're advertising to everyone within range "Hey, this is free Internet access!  This is a gift to all my guests in my facility!  Use me!  Use me!"  Some will argue about mistakenly enabling guest access and not granting use by a stranger contrary to the admin's intent, but really....that's an excuse.  When an admin enables "guest" access by design or by mistake, it is that admin's responsibility to accept that the casual passerby will use that access as they wish.  It's time to put this argument away for good.  If an admin is not comfortable with how "guest" access is used, turn it off.


On just those points alone this inventor's motivation for marketing this product for public consumption just smacks of developing a niche product to profit off of fear, paranoia, and ignorance. 
User Rank: Ninja
9/9/2014 | 2:49:45 PM
Re: Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!
You are absolutelly right.  We are being monitored whether we like it or not.  What is worst? There are no legislation or private companies stepping foward in providing tools to deter such abuse in our privacy.  Entities will come with more technologies to block connectivity from devices. 
User Rank: Apprentice
9/9/2014 | 12:29:26 PM
glass and other technologies can be used as 1984 in reverse
If we all wore google glass, then the governments could not deny atrocities they cause.  This is 1984 in reverse, instead of governments watching us, we can record and show what the governments are really doing.  Everyone needs to be wearing glass and have dash cams running all the time, constantly uploading to the cloud so they cannot be confiscated and erased.  There are a number of cases where US police have confiscated phones to hide and erase their breaking of laws. Therefore the cloud is the answer. 


In my opinion, this device is a giant step backwards, we need more monitoring of the government, not less. 
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2014 | 11:24:33 AM
Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!
We're all living inside The Truman Show, we just haven't noticed.
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