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Wearables, Ethics, and the bizarre case of Sarah Slocum and Google Glass

It was inevitable that a controversial story about Google Glass and/or other wearable would eventually surface. Wearable technology has been raising privacy concerns ever since Google started slowly rolling out the devices to consumers. But thanks to “social media consultant” Sarah Slocum, we now have an example of what happens when people abuse wearables to stir up trouble.

Wearables and Ethics

Slocum has become a infamous name in tech circles after claiming she was attacked in a San Francisco bar just for wearing the device. According to documents filed in court, Slocum said patrons of the bar began to shout insults and obscenities just because she was wearing Google Glass, which is a head-mounted mobile device equipped with a camera.

Slocum claimed that patrons were accusing her of recording them with the camera. While Slocum argued that their anger was unfounded, she later released video to her YouTube channel, proving that she did ultimately choose to record–and then publish–video of the encounter.

Unfortunately for Slocum, her own evidence appears to incriminate her more than she might like. While there is video proof of a towel being thrown in her direction, Slocum is not merely suffering the unprompted assails of other bar-goers. She is actively video-taping them even as they put their hands over their faces and turn away from her camera. At one point, she raising her middle finger to a woman, curses at her and says she wants “to get this white trash on tape for as long as I can.”

Slocum’s experience raises a number of ethics questions regarding the use of wearable technology. But while some critics of wearables will use this experience to highlight the adverse effects that wearable technology can have, it’s important to consider Slocum’s reputation. The consultant has a track record of instigating conflicts and attempting to stir up trouble. As reported in the DailyMail, Slocum’s former neighbors had filed a restraining order against the woman in 2012. That comes one year after Slocum’s mother filed a restraining order against her, citing domestic violence.

Two former acquaintances of Slocum’s also said she had secretly recorded a conversation at their home. That’s the kind of privacy infringement that doesn’t require Google Glass to execute, and it discredits Slocum as a figure in the ethics debate concerning wearables. Slocum appears to be little more than a meddling agitator that simply wanted to stir up controversy and get attention. Google Glass could have been interchanged with any other device or object used to invade another person’s privacy.

A few bad seeds will always attempt to make a mess of certain privileges, but those individuals can’t be allowed to influence the ethics debate that concern the larger, responsible majority.