May 20, 2013

Thinking about Wearing ‘Google Glass’ in a Job Interview?

Since you can  record scenes and sounds (including conversations) in public with your iPhone, why not in a job interview?

This makes sense, especially since recording is going to be virtually hands-free once Google’s mind-boggling—make that “mind-Googling”— “Google Glass(es)” mass-marketing blitz goes full throttle.

If your fast-twitch mental-muscle response is to invoke notions of “privileged conversation”, “private property privacy rights”, generic privacy or any other “protection” from monitoring, surveillance or intrusion, consider this:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

That’s from Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, in a December 3, 2009 interview with CNBC (a comment that has visibly raised many eyebrows, although probably not so many already framed by Google Glass).

Before evaluating the (de)merits of Schmidt’s observation, and whether it also applies to (more than) nose-picking and other bodily activities/functions, a brief description of Google Glass(es) is in order.

The New “Panopticon”

Unless you’ve been lost in a cave for the past several months, groping in the dark for your prescription glasses that fell off, you know about “Google Glass” (demonstrated in use on the streets of Vancouver on May 17, 2013).

But if you’ve just surfaced, here’s the scoop: Somewhat similar in appearance to a conventional pair of eyeglasses, Google Glass(es) allow voice-activated hands-free filming, audio recording, voice transcription into visible text, instant broadcasting and uploading to YouTube (and elsewhere), online searches, the prospect of facial recognition apps and other instantaneous wireless transmission of what you see and hear—and of course of what you are saying and doing, especially if somebody else anywhere near you is wearing a pair.

Theoretically, the glasses allow for a virtual “Panopticon”—like 19th-century philosopher-social reformer Jeremy Bentham’s so-named design for 360°, 24/7 institutional, especially prison, surveillance—with zero privacy once you step outside your home (or away from the stove that, unlike your smart TV, may not yet be spying on you in the near future).

 Why “Google Glass” and Not “Google Glasses”?

My guess is that maybe this is why the official name is “Google Glass”, not “Google Glasses”—to subliminally suggest that these glasses will become like air: uncountable, indispensable, unnoticed, but everywhere and all-enveloping. (Like money, air is not countable, e.g., “1, 2, 3 airs”.)

If or when shipments of Google Glass reach a critical mass, those countless glasses will, like countless grains of quartz silica-rich sand, fuse in the heat of the marketing mania into something seamless, ubiquitous and all encompassing, surpassing even the countable “One” of mystical metaphysics or the State omni-vision of George Orwell’s 1984.

The Glass Panopticon

Schmidt’s perspective on privacy expressed in his quote is the verbalized mandate for a Panopticon: Both suggest that wrong-doing is likelier, if not certain, only when it is unseen, and that, for anyone who is well behaved, there’s no problem.

Hence, his perspective suggests that surveillance should be unwelcome only to those misbehaving, and reassuring to the rest. (Note: In the same interview Schmidt does allow that those who nonetheless cling to privacy concerns need to be aware of how vulnerable they are, e.g., to government information requests.)

What’s Wrong with Living in a Google Glass House?

Applying his quote to interviewing, what possible argument could there be against recording every interview by both the interviewer and the interviewed—or a single recording accessible to both, in full detail?

After all, it might be a great learning tool, or at least a fun video keepsake or social media “shared”, “liked” or “tweeted” item.

What argument? Make that “arguments”. Here are but some:

1. 1.  Dangerous techno-ambiguity of “anyone”: In this high-tech, high-surveillance age, “If you don’t want anyone to know” is coming to mean “If you don’t want everyone to know”.

vv   All it takes is the wrong “anyone” (equipped with not only the right technology, but also with perhaps the wrong motive). Click-click (the simple “record”-mouse sequence)—everybody (on the planet) knows. This danger is summed up in Grandma’s quaint, yet prophetic aphorism: “A secret told is a secret no more.”

If Google Glass(es) is/are allowed in a job interview or at the table next to you in a restaurant, that “anyone” can become “everyone”, or at least an unauthorized “anyone” (e.g., the interviewer’s buddies or Facebook friends of the job applicant), the minute one of you leaves the office (or maybe even earlier) and broadcasts or uploads the recording.

Obviously, in a job interview, neither party is absolutely objecting to “anyone” knowing what is said, since there is at least one other person in the room.

However, “anyone” is once again, but more conventionally, ambiguous: It can connote “some specified person” (“any” as “even one”) or, more ominously, “any randomly chosen, unknown person” (“any” as “no matter which”). The former is what is meant when we are asked, “Is there anyone you’d like to invite?”–definitely neither random nor unknown.

I don’t know about you, but although I’m fine with having “some specific person” I’ve chosen being privy to my emotional outpourings, patentable designs, humiliating stories, gastrointestinal physiology, or location of my second house key, I’ll never disclose any of those to “any randomly chosen person”.  

So, if Schmidt is puzzled as to why we would object to having any randomly chosen person or any unknown and unauthorized person aware of things we’d rationally or preferentially limit to those we choose to inform, e.g., our family (physician), I have to say that his puzzlement would be twice as puzzling.

If we “don’t want anyone to know” is taken to mean we “don’t want even one other person to know”, should we “not be doing that (e.g., creating pin numbers) in the first place”? That’s what is clearly implied by ‘If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” 

With this understanding, go reread Google’s privacy policies—especially if you have any of its services, i.e., if you have “gone and done it in the first place”.

2. 2. Dangerous beliefs: What Schmidt’s perhaps innocently idealistic suggestion fails to take into account is that there can be a danger greater than others’ knowing what you’ve done.

      That danger is their merely believing, or getting others to believe, when the belief is innocently, maliciously or otherwise unjustifiably implanted.

Suppose a job applicant knows that the interview went very badly, has been rejected, is really ticked off or too embarrassed to tell friends he failed, and, through very selective editing and contextualizing, creates a Google Glass video clip with commentary, music or whatever that suggests the interviewer was a monster.

For example, the few isolated moments when the interviewer was not looking at the candidate, e.g., glances at the ceiling, the door, the carpet or his watch, get spliced together with the caption, “No wonder I didn’t get the job! He didn’t realize I was in the room!”

This recently was precisely the big issue with a “Family Guy” cartoon episode about the Boston Marathon, subsequently yanked by Fox, that was spliced without authorization to create a very dark interpretation of its content and theme.

Anyone vengeful, malicious, obsessive, deluded, naïve, fame/infamy-seeking, intent on blackmail or identity theft, vain or otherwise a menace can do this with recordings and clever captioning, editing, commentary or suggestive background sounds, not limited to music.

It’s as simple as posting a photo of an interview participant juxtaposed with a photo of a howling Hitler. For that to “work”, all that is necessary is the mere suggestion of a resemblance, which, once noted and posted on  Facebook, is never forgotten.

3.  3. Deadly “PCPC” dulling: It would not be at all surprising if popularizing (or at least allowing) Google Glass(es) in interviews, the broader workplace, restaurants, parks, movie theaters, train stations, airports, beaches, locker rooms, buses and a million other venues both public and private won’t inhibit people to the point of perpetual self-monitoring, self-consciousness, and what I’ll call “PCPC”—Personal Computer-monitored Political Correctness.

      Justifiably expressing irritation, impulsively flirting, or even smiling at strangers or (with delicious irony) wearing Google Glass may, in the near future, get you on YouTube, in a video captioned “Creepy!” fitted out with a “Friday the 13th”soundtrack.

4.  4.  Dangerous vulnerabilities: Maybe an interviewer doesn’t want his desk filmed—the desk with the photo of his wife and kids standing in front of their 3201 Maple Avenue home.

      He may be concerned that even if the job applicant has the best of intentions, once the clip is posted, burglars, kidnappers or worse, may be able to further track and identify his family to his home.

This concern is like that of non-gun owners who do not want their non-ownership deduced from a public database of the names and addresses of those who hold gun permits.

The irony of this situation is that all those people whose information is not publicly revealed are the ones who are, their argument purports, vulnerable, e.g., to home invasion by robbers who have accessed the list of gun-friendly homes not to attack. The loss of the gun-owners’ privacy, it has been argued, puts the non-owners at risk.

Or should the interviewer not have a family photo in his office? Nor mention in the interview that he, like the candidate, likes to leave his wife and young kids behind on weekends and go fishing with his pals?

But wait—there’s another workaround solution that will be one small step toward making both his home and office Google Glass-safe.

Don’t go fishing with anyone who wears Google Glass, except maybe the wife and kids.

Read more in Interviewing

Michael Moffa, writer for, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).