Google Glass Prompts Attack, Woman Claims - InformationWeek

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2/26/2014
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Google Glass Prompts Attack, Woman Claims

Alleged assault appears to have arisen from a desire not to be videotaped.

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A woman says she was assaulted for wearing Google Glass at a San Francisco bar on Friday evening, the latest in a series of confrontations that belie the city's longstanding reputation for tolerance.

On her Facebook page, Sarah Slocum, contributing editor at social news site Newsdad and resident of San Mateo, Calif., wrote that she was verbally and physically assaulted and robbed "because of some wanker Google Glass haters." She claims one of her assailants, a man, grabbed her Glass from her face and ran outside and that his friends stole her purse, wallet, and cellphone. She says she recovered her Glass but has not found her other possessions.

A San Francisco Police Department spokesman confirmed that a police report about the incident has been filed and is under investigation. The woman got into an argument with three individuals, the spokesman said, adding "The argument was over the suspects' belief that the woman was taping them without consent."

At least some of the time during the altercation, Slocum was doing just that. According to KPIX, Slocum said her Glass contains video of the man she says tore the device from her head.

[Class warfare has erupted in the Bay Area. See Silicon Valley's 1%: Stinginess Is Not The Problem.]

In a Facebook post, Slocum said she began taping only after the confrontation began. "I wasn't even videotaping until I felt threatened after the one girl turned around and gave me the bird for no reason," she explained.

Glass does not display a red light when it is recording like some video devices, but Google says that Glass was designed with explicit signals to indicate when video recording has been initiated (a gesture or a voice command) and when recording is active (an illuminated screen).

The police spokesman said he believes Slocum planned to provide some video to investigators. He said he didn't know whether the investigators have received the video or have been able to identify anyone in the video.

Slocum did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

The incident occurred at Molotov's, a "dive bar" in San Francisco's Lower Haight neighborhood, and several people commenting on Slocum's Facebook posts blame her for the assault or question her account of that evening's events.

(Image credit: Google)
(Image credit: Google)

Marc Canter, a founder of Macromedia and entrepreneur who left the Bay Area five years ago for Cleveland, said in a response to Slocum's post, "Punk bars are NOT for hipster babes to come in and show off their geeky whatever the hell. Have you no common sense?"

Reached by phone, and asked how much Slocum should be blamed for the assault, Canter said, "It's 100% her, dude," explaining that she could have walked into any bar in the Marina district without incident.

At another online discussion of the incident, one person said it was unacceptable to blame the victim. "Absent the bar owners telling her to knock it off, she has every legal right to film as little or much as she wants," an individual posting as "The Colonel" wrote. "Just like anyone else in there with their phone. They may not like it, they may even ask the Molotov's manager to ask her to stop/leave, but none of that has ANYTHING to do with them beating and robbing her."

Canter said people like Slocum don't have a clue what the tech industry has done to San Francisco, adding later, "I actually like her and she's a nice person," even as he suggested Slocum was using the incident to improve her social media brand.

"This is all about the frustration of no jobs and these rich kids coming in and raising prices," Canter said. "It's not the San Francisco I remember... That's not to say that the techies are personally responsible, but we are talking about an ecosystem and the changing of the guard."

Resentment over the diminishing supply of affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, and over corporate buses using public transit accommodations without adequate compensation, has manifest itself in several class-oriented confrontations recently.

Twice in December, small groups of demonstrators staged protests at bus stops where Google's coaches were picking up passengers, one in San Francisco and one in Oakland. During the protest near the West Oakland BART Station, some of the demonstrators broke a Google bus window and slashed its tires.

The following month, a group calling itself Counterforce protested in front of the Berkeley home of Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, who works on Google's self-driving car project.

These incidents led Google to hire a ferry to carry commuting workers over water between Redwood City and San Francisco to catch a commuter bus that travels to the company's Mountain View headquarters. The company has also hired security guards to protect its employees.

Last week, Google issued guidelines for Google Glass wearers, advising them not to be a rude, creepy, or a "Glasshole." And according to Reuters, the company is lobbying in at least three states against rules being considered in eight states that could prohibit using Google Glass while driving.

But Google has further work to do before Glass is universally accepted. Canter observed, "I have yet to figure out what anyone does with Google Glass except surreptitiously videotaping people."

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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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WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 10:47:36 PM
Re: Who's Fault?
Rob, you  summed it up well: "...Someone looking for attention. And she got the wrong kind."

That's no excuse for getting robbed and roughed up.  But this incident does illustrate that Google Glass is pushing people's privacy buttons. And the reaction to Google Glass isn't always going to be "Gee Whiz."

 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 5:58:15 PM
Re: Context
What if it had been a google employee, male or female, wearing an expensive watch or an expensive coat? those folks going to be targeted too? how about someone driving the wrong car near the dive bar? The whole discussion doesn't work for me.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 5:39:55 PM
Re: Context
I'm not sure it could have happened the same way in NYC. This story is partly about Google Glass-- and in that respect, the confrontation could have happened in any bar in any town. But it's also partly about the perception of tech companies and their employees in San Francisco.

According to the SF Chronicle's account, the people in the bar were upset not only because they thought they were being recorded, but also because they don't like the influx of tech industry employees into the city. The attackers evidently said as much during the confrontation in the bar.

On Tuesday night, in fact, tech workers and housing activists attempted some kind of happy hour in the Mission, a neighborhood where gentrification battles are currently raging. The event evidently turned ugly in less than an hour. Stories like this (or about Google Bus protests, or anti-surveillance protests, or whatever) are in the local news daily.

I wouldn't say that the city is in uproar or anything; it's San Francisco, so there are always protests about something. But a lot of people are upset about rising local inequality, especially since San Francisco now features the most expensive real estate in the country. It's never been an inexpensive city-- but when the median studio apartment runs more than $3,000 per month, you can imagine how many people are on the verge of being priced out of the area. A subset of upset people are directing their anger at the tech industry, whose highly-paid employees are one force driving up rental costs.

I think the city's tech companies are certainly influencing the pace and direction of gentrification, so I understand some of the discontent-- but I don't see how lashing out at techies helps the upset factions to improve their situation. It seems like they've identified the wrong target. A recent editorial in the Chronicle asked what it would be like if the anti-tech activists got their way, and companies like Twitter and Salesforce left the city. I don't think that would be an improvement.

 

 

 

 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 5:19:55 PM
Re: Context
If Slocum were male, would the events of that evening have played out differently? And would people be more or less likely to suggest she brought it on herself?
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 4:57:13 PM
Context
Why are people so eager to judge this story in the first place? This story doesn't say much to me about the cultural shift going on in SF; it sounds like a night that went from bad to worse. Could have happened in NYC right?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 4:57:00 PM
Re: Who's Fault?
Great point. And it's sort of funny. If someone wants to covertly take pictures or video of someone else, Google Glass is actually one of the worst ways to do it, since, as this incident attests, the device is so obvious.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 4:51:28 PM
Punk vs. technophile? Hmmmm,
Google Glass as a flash point for the social tensions in San Francisco, leading to assault and robbery and an outraged posting on Facebook by a contributing editor to a social media news site. Hmmmm. Sounds like the writers of Downton Abbey, fearing unemployment, have taken up another cliche-rich mileau. This seems more like a clash of under-the-influence, late night personalities than technophile vs. punk. For Sarah, I would recommend wearing your Google Glass in Pravda, a stylish watering hole in New York or Copper Mountain, Colo., over Molotov.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 4:15:22 PM
Re: Who's Fault?
Is using Glass really any different than someone using their phone at a bar to surreptitiously video a confrontation? You don't often hear about those problems, but introduc Glass and it becomes a whole new beast.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 12:25:44 PM
Re: Who's Fault?
Well said, Rob:  "...someone looking for attention. And she got the wrong kind."

Certainly she didn't deserve to be robbed. But the incident does illustrate how the use of Google Glass pushes into uncomfortable social territory -- and people's reactions aren't always going to be "Gee whiz."
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 12:20:31 PM
Re: Who's Fault?
You're right; Google Glass bring up interesting social contracts. This incident happened inside a bar, in which case other patrons might have a reasonable expectation against being recorded without their consent by other customers. Certainly, the bar can (as some others already have) ban Google Glass and similar devices from being worn inside the premises.

But what about on the street? People are already legally allowed to take pictures of virtually anything they want in a public space. Google Glass will be a lot trickier in situations like that.

But the incident in SF seems to be about more than privacy inside a dive bar; it also seems to be about growing sentiment within the city that the tech boom is ruining local culture. Canter's comments in this article reflects that viewpoint, and the SF Chronicle's report on this incident tapped the same vein.

If the issue is not only privacy but also social inequity, this kind of aggression makes no sense-- just like the Google bus vandalism didn't. I think for a lot of angry people in the city, the focal point shouldn't be that techies are paid so well, given so many great perks, and positioned to have such a big impact on the rental market; wage and social inequality issues are systemic, much bigger than Google buses, and they should be treated as such.
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