Global Ethics Corner: Who Benefits Most From Wearable Computers?

Mar 25, 2013

Apple and Google will, reportedly, both soon be selling computers that you can wear. But will the trove of details that these devices will be able to collect be an invasion of privacy? Do advertisers stand to gain more from this technology than consumers?

First there was the PC. Then came the laptop, the iPhone, and the tablet. Next up? A computer you can wear.

The two heaviest hitters in Silicon Valley—Apple and Google—are both preparing to release devices that are designed to be strapped to consumers’ bodies.

Apple’s iWatch reportedly will let users read emails by glancing down at their wrists and could include a heart-rate monitor. Apple has not yet announced publicly that it is working on iWatch, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office confirmed that the notoriously secret company has applied for a patent on a wearable computer in the form of "a flexible bracelet that wraps around the wrist."

The Google Glass project is said to be farther along. These smart glasses will allow users to integrate many of the functions that Google already offers through its online and mobile platforms, while also allowing them to make phone calls, photograph what they see, and record hands-free video. Google Glass could hit the market as soon as this year, though not everyone is enthusiastic.

As Telegraph columnist Nick Pickles points out, the goal could be to bridge the current divide between our private lives and the monetized world of digital business. The trove of data collected by a device that sees what you see or knows intimate details about your health could have potentially lucrative appeal to online advertisers. Since Google’s revenue model is based on selling ads, many have surmised that the Internet search giant’s ultimate aim is to create hyper-personal, real-time advertisements and project those ads directly to your eyeballs.

What do you think? Are wearable computers nothing more than the next big thing in electronics, something to help consumers in all sorts of ways? Or are they a threat to privacy and an advertiser’s dream come true?

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:
Bruno Cordioli
Amber Case
Julia Van Cleve
Sam Webster
Ben Stanfield
Ars Electronica
John Watson
Frederic Poirot
Dave Hoffman
Alex Proimos
Hana Loftus
Saad Faruque

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