Societal Implications of Wearable Technology

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Societal Implications of Wearable Technology: Interpreting “Trialability on the Run”


This chapter presents a set of scenarios involving the GoPro wearable Point of View (PoV) camera. The scenarios are meant to stimulate discussion about acceptable usage contexts with a focus on security and privacy. The chapter provides a wide array of examples of how overt wearable technologies are perceived and how they might/might not be welcomed into society. While the scenario is based at the University of Wollongong campus in Australia, the main implications derived from the fictitious events are useful in drawing out the predicted pros and cons of the technology. The scenarios are interpreted and the main thematic issues are drawn out and discussed. An in depth analysis takes place around the social implications, the moral and ethical problems associated with such technology, and possible future developments with respect to wearable devices.


This chapter presents the existing, as well as the potential future, implications of wearable computing. Essentially, the chapter builds on the scenarios presented in an IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine article entitled: “Trialability on the Run” (Gokyer & Michael, 2015). In this chapter the scenarios are interpreted qualitatively using thick description and the implications arising from these are discussed using thematic analysis. The scenario analysis is conducted through deconstruction, in order to extract the main themes and to grant the reader a deeper understanding of the possible future implications of the widespread use of wearable technology. First, each of the scenarios is analyzed to draw out the positive and the negative aspects of wearable cameras. Second, the possible future implications stemming from each scenario context are discussed under the following thematic areas: privacy, security, society, anonymity, vulnerability, trust and liberty. Third, direct evidence is provided using the insights of other research studies to support the conclusions reached and to identify plausible future implications of wearable technologies, in particular use contexts in society at large.

The setting for the scenario is a closed-campus environment, (a large Australian University). Specific contexts such as a lecture theatre, restroom, café, bank, and library, are chosen to provide a breadth of use cases within which to analyze the respective social implications. The legal, regulatory, and policy-specific bounds of the study are taken from current laws, guidelines and normative behavior, and are used as signposts for what should, or should not, be acceptable practice. The outcomes illustrate that the use cases are not so easily interpretable, given the newness of the emerging technology of wearable computing, especially overt head-mounted cameras, that draw a great deal of attention from bystanders. Quite often resistance to the use of a head-mounted camera is opposed without qualified reasoning. “Are you recording me? Stop that please!” is a common response to audio-visual bodyworn recording technology in the public space by individuals (Michael & Michael, 2013). Yet companies such as Google have been able to use fleets of cars to gather imagery of homes and streets, with relatively little problem.

There are, indeed, laws that pertain to the misuse of surveillance devices without a warrant, to the unauthorized recording of someone else whether in a public or private space, and to voyeuristic crimes such as upskirting. While there are laws, such as the Workplace Surveillance Act, 2005 (NSW), asserting a set of rules for surveillance (watching from above), the law regarding sousveillance (watching from below) is less clear (Clarke, 2012). We found that, while public spaces like libraries and lecture theatres have clear policy guidelines to follow, the actual published policies, and the position taken by security staff, do not in fact negate the potential to indirectly record another. Several times, through informal questioning, we found the strong line “you cannot do that because we have a policy that says you are not allowed to record someone”, to be unsubstantiated by real enforceable universitywide policies. Such shortcomings are now discussed in more detail against scenarios showing various sub-contexts of wearable technology in a closed-campus setting.


The term sousveillance has been defined by Steve Mann (2002) to denote a recording done from a portable device such as a head-mounted display (HMD) unit in which the wearer is a participant in the activity. In contrast to wall-mounted fixed cameras typically used for surveillance, portable devices allow inverse surveillance: recordings from the point of view of those being watched. More generally, point of view (POV) has its foundations in film, and usually depicts a scene through the eyes of a character. Body-worn video-recording technologies now mean that a wearer can shoot film from a first-person perspective of another subject or object in his or her immediate field of view (FOV), with or without a particular agenda.

During the initial rollout of Google Glass, explorers realized that recording other people with an optical HMD unit was not perceived as an acceptable practice, despite the fact that the recording was taking place in a public space. Google’s apparent blunder was to assume that the device, worn by 8,000 individuals, would go unnoticed, like shopping mall closed-circuit television (CCTV). Instead, what transpired was a mixed reaction by the public—some nonusers were curious and even thrilled at the possibilities claimed by the wearers of Google Glass, while some wearers were refused entry to premises, fined, verbally abused, or even physically assaulted by others in the FOV (see Levy, 2014).

Some citizens and consumers have claimed that law enforcement (if approved through the use of a warrant process) and shop owners have every right to surveil a given locale, dependent on the context of the situation. Surveilling a suspect who may have committed a violent crime or using CCTV as an antitheft mechanism is now commonly perceived as acceptable, but having a camera in your line of sight record you—even incidentally—as you mind your own business can be disturbing for even the most tolerant of people.

Wearers of these prototypes, or even of fully-fledged commercial products like the Autographer (see, claim that they record everything around them as part of a need to lifelog or quantify themselves for reflection. Technology such as the Narrative Clip may not capture audio or video, but even still shots are enough to reveal someone else’s whereabouts, especially if they are innocently posted on Flickr, Instagram, or other social media. Many of these photographs also have embedded location and time-stamp metadata stored by default.

A tourist might not have malicious intent by showing off in front of a landmark, but innocent bystanders captured in the photo could find themselves in a predicament given that the context may be entirely misleading.

Wearable and embedded cameras worn by any citizen carry significant and deep personal and societal implications. A photoborg is one who mounts a camera onto any aspect of the body to record the space around himself or herself (Michael & Michael, 2012). Photoborgs may feel entirely free, masters of their own destiny; even safe that their point of view is being noted for prospective reuse. Indeed, the power that photoborgs have is clear when they wear the camera. It can be even more authoritative than the unrestricted overhead gazing of traditional CCTV, given that sousveillance usually happens at ground level. Although photoborgs may be recording for their own lifelog, they will inevitably capture other people in their field of view, and unless these fellow citizens also become photoborgs themselves, there is a power differential. Sousveillance carries with it huge socioethical, environmental, economic, political, and spiritual overtones. The narrative that informs sousveillance is more relevant than ever before due to the proliferation of new media.

Sousveillance grants citizens the ability to combat the powerful using their own evidentiary mechanism, but it also grants other citizens the ability to put on the guise of the powerful. The evidence emanating from cameras is endowed with obvious limitations, such as the potential for the impairment of the data through loss, manipulation, or misrepresentation (Michael, 2013). The pervasiveness of the camera that sees and hears everything can only be reconciled if we know the lifeworld of the wearer, the context of the event being captured, and how the data will be used by the stakeholder in command.

Sousveillance happens through the gaze of the one wearing the camera, just like a first-person shooter in a video game. In 2003, WIRED published an article (Shachtman, 2003) on the potentiality to lifelog everything about everyone. Shachtman wrote:

The Pentagon is about to embark on a stunningly ambitious research project designed to gather every conceivable bit of information about a person’s life, index all the information and make it searchable… The embryonic LifeLog program would dump everything an individual does into a giant database: every e-mail sent or received, every picture taken, every Web page surfed, every phone call made, every TV show watched, every magazine read… All of this—and more—would combine with information gleaned from a variety of sources: a GPS transmitter to keep tabs on where that person went, audio-visual sensors to capture what he or she sees or says, and biomedical monitors to keep track of the individual’s health… This gigantic amalgamation of personal information could then be used to “trace the ‘threads’ of an individual’s life.”

This goes to show how any discovery can be tailored toward any end. Lifelogging is meant to sustain the power of the individual through reflection and learning, to enable growth, maturity and development. Here, instead, it has been hijacked by the very same stakeholder against whom it was created to gain protection.

Sousveillance also drags into the equation innocent bystanders going about their everyday business who just wish to be left alone. When we asked wearable 2.0 pioneer Steve Mann in 2009 what one should do if bystanders in a recording in a public space questioned why they were being recorded without their explicit permission, he pointed us to his “request for deletion” (RFD) web page (Mann, n.d.). This is admittedly only a very small part of the solution and, for the most part, untenable. One just needs to view a few minutes of the Surveillance Camera Man Channel ( to understand that people generally do not wish to be filmed in someone else’s field of view. Some key questions include:

1. In what context has the footage been taken?

2. How will it be used?

3. To whom will the footage belong?

4. How will the footage taken be validated and stored?

Trialability on the Run

In this section, plausible scenarios of the use of wearable cameras in a closed campus setting are presented and analyzed in the story “Trialability on the Run”. Although the scenarios are not based directly on primary sources of evidence, they do provide conflicting perspectives on the pros and cons of wearables. As companies are engaged in ever-shorter market trialing of their products, the scenarios demonstrate what can go wrong with an approach that effectively says: “Let’s unleash the product now and worry about repercussions later; they’ll iron themselves out eventually—our job is solely to worry about engineering.” The pitfalls of such an approach are the unexpected and asymmetric consequences that ensue. For instance, someone wearing a camera breaches my privacy, and, although the recorded evidence has affected no one else, my life is affected adversely. Laws, and organizational policies especially, need quickly to respond as advances in technologies emerge.

“Trialability on the Run” is a “day in the life” scenario that contains 9 parts, set in a closed-campus in southern New South Wales. The main characters are Anthony, the owner and wearer of the head-mounted GoPro (an overt audio-visual recording device), and his girlfriend Sophie. The narrator follows and observes the pair as they work their way around the campus in various sub-contexts, coming into contact with academic staff, strangers, acquaintances, cashiers, banking personnel, librarians, fellow university students and finally security personnel. Anthony takes the perspective that his head-mounted GoPro is no different from the mounted security surveillance cameras on lampposts and building walls, or from the in-lecture theatre recordings captured by the Echo360 (Echo, 2016), or even from portable smart phone cameras that are handheld. He is bewildered when he draws so much attention to himself as the photoborg camera wearer, since he perceives he is performing exactly the same function as the other cameras on campus and has only the intent of capturing his own lifelog. Although he is not doing anything wrong, Anthony looks different and stands out as a result (Surveillance Camera Man, 2015). His girlfriend, Sophie, is not convinced by Anthony’s blasé attitude and tries to press a counter argument that Anthony’s practice is unacceptable in society.

Scenario 1: The Lecture


In this scenario, the main character, Anthony, has arrived at the lecture theatre, in which the lesson had already begun, intending to record the lecture instead of taking notes. Being slightly late, he decided to sit in the very front row. All the students and eventually the lecturer saw the head-mounted camera he was wearing. The lecturer continued his lecture without showing any emotion. Some students giggled at the spectacle and others were very surprised with what they observed, as it was quite probable that it was the first time that they were seeing someone wearing a camera to record a lecture. The students were generally not bothered by the head-mounted recording device in full view, as it was focused on the lecture material and the lecturer, so proceedings continued, as they otherwise would have, had the body-worn camera not been present. Students are very used to surveillance cameras on campus; this was just another camera as far as they were concerned, and besides no one objected: they were too busy taking notes and listening to instruction about the structure and form of the final examination in their engineering coursework.

Wearable User Rights and Intellectual Property

In some of the lecture theatres on university campuses, there are motion sensor based video cameras that make full audio-visual recordings of the lectures (Echo, 2016). Lecturers choose to record their lectures in this manner as available evidence of educational content covered for students, especially for those who were unable to attend the lecture, for those for whom English is a second language or for those who like to listen to lecture content as a form of revision. In this regard, there are no policies in place to keep the students from making audio-visual recordings of the lecture in the lecture theatres.

Lecture theatres are considered public spaces and many universities allow students to attend lectures whether or not they are enrolled in that particular course or subject. Anyone from the public could walk into lectures and listen, as there is no keycard access. Similar to centrally organized Echo 360 audio-visual recordings, Anthony is taping the lecture himself and he does not see any problems with distributing the recording to classmates if someone asks for it to study for the final examination. After all, everyone owns a smartphone and anyone can record the lecture with the camera on their smartphones or tablet device.

This scenario raises a small number of questions that need to be dealt with foremost, such as “What is the difference between making a recording with a smartphone and with a head-mounted camera?” or, “Does it only start being a problem when the recording device is overt and can be seen?” If one juxtaposes the surveillance camera covertly integrated into a light fixture, with an overt head-mounted camera, then why should the two devices elicit such a different response from bystanders?

These questions do not, however, address the fact that an open discussion is required on whether or not we are ready to see a great deal of these sousveillers in our everyday life, and if we are not, what are we prepared to do about it? Mann (2005) predicted the use of sousveillance would grow greatly when the sousveillance devices acquired non-traditional uses such as making phone calls, taking pictures, and having access to the Internet. This emergence produces a grey area, generating the requirement for laws, legislation, regulations and policies having to be amended or created to address specific uses of the sousveillance devices in different environments and contexts. Clarke (2014) identifies a range of relevant (Australian) laws to inform policy discussion and notes the inadequacy of current regulation in the face of rapidly emerging technology.

Scenario 2: The Restroom


In the restroom scenario, Anthony walked into a public restroom after his lecture, forgetting that his head-mounted camera was still on and recording. While unintentionally recording, Anthony received different reactions from the people present in the restroom, all of whom saw the camera and suspected some foul play. The first person, who was leaving as Anthony was entering the restroom, did not seem to care; another tried to ignore Anthony and left as soon as he was finished. The last person became disturbed by the fact that he was being recorded in what he obviously deemed to be a private place. Later that day when Anthony searched for lecture recordings on the tape, he got a sense of wrongdoing after realizing that, in the restroom, he had accidentally left the camera on in record mode. He was surprised, upon hindsight, that he did not get any major reactions, such as an individual openly expressing their discontent or the fact he did not get any specific questions or pronouncements of discomfort. If it were not for the facial expressions to which Anthony was privy, he would not have been able to tell that anybody was upset, as there was no verbal cue or physical retaliation. Of course, the innocent bystanders, going about their business, would not have been able to assume that the camera was indeed rolling.

Citizen Privacy, Voyeurism, and a Process of Desensitization

Restrooms, change rooms, and shower blocks on campus are open to the public, but they are also considered private spaces given that people are engaged in private activities (e.g. showering), and are, at times, not fully clothed. The natural corollary, then, would lead to the expectation that some degree of privacy should be granted. Can anyone overtly walk into a public toilet sporting a camera and record you while you are trying to, for modesty’s sake, do what should only be done in the restroom? Is the body-worn technology becoming so ubiquitous that no one even says a word about something that they can clearly see is ethically or morally wrong? Steve Mann has argued that surveillance cameras in the restroom are an invasion of privacy more abhorrent than body-worn cameras owned by everyday people. The direct approachability of the photoborg differs from an impersonal CCTV.

There is a long discussion to be had on personal security. For instance, will we all, one day, be carrying such devices as we seek to lifelog our entire histories, or acquire an alibi for our whereabouts should we be accused of a given crime, as portrayed in film in the drama “The Entire History of You” (Armstrong and Welsh, 2011)? It is very common to find signs prohibiting the use of mobile phones in leisure centers, swimming pools and the like. There remains, however, much to be argued around safety versus privacy trade-offs, if it is acceptable practice to rely on closed circuit television (CCTV) in public spaces.

University campuses are bound by a number of laws, at federal or state level, including (in this case) the Privacy Act 1998 (Cth), the Surveillance Devices Act 2007(NSW), and the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 (NSW). This scenario points out that even when there cannot possibly be surveillance cameras in restrooms or change rooms, the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW) does not specify provisions about sousveillance in those public/private spaces. In Clarke’s (2014) assessment of the NSW Crimes Act (1900), the voyeurism offences provisions exist relating to photographs. They pertain to photographs that are of a sexual and voyeuristic nature, usually showing somebody’s private parts. These photographs are also taken without the consent of the individual and/or taken in places where a person would reasonably expect to be afforded privacy (toilets, showers, change rooms etc). When a person claims to have had his or her privacy breached, however, exceptions to this rule apply if s/he is a willing participant in the activity, or if circumstances indicate that the persons involved did not really care if they were seen by onlookers (Clarke, 2014). It is even less likely to be illegal, if the act was conducted in a private place, but with doors open in full view (Clarke, 2014). Thus, the law represents controls over a narrow range of abuses (Clarke, 2014), and, unless they find themselves in a predicament and seek further advice, the general populace is unaware that the law does not protect them entirely, and depends on the context.

Scenario 3: The Corridor


This scenario depicts a conversation occurring with Sophie (Anthony’s girlfriend and fellow undergraduate coursework student). In the corridor, Anthony bumps into their mutual friend, Oxford, as they vacate the lecture theatre. Throughout the conversation, Anthony demonstrates confidence in his appearance. He believed wearing a head-mounted camera was not a problem and so consequently, he did not think he was doing anything wrong. On the other hand, Sophie was questioning whether or not body-worn cameras should be used without notifying the people in their vicinity. Oxford, an international student, became concerned about the possible future uses of the recording that featured him. His main concern was that he did not want the footage to be made publicly available given how he looked and the clothing he was wearing. Although Oxford had no objection to Anthony keeping the footage for his personal archives, he did not wish for it to be splattered all over social media.

Trust, Disproportionality, and Requests for Deletion

The two student perspectives of “recording” a lifelog are juxtaposed. Anthony is indifferent as he feels he is taping “his” life as it happens around him through time. Oxford, on the other hand, believes he has a right to his own image, and that includes video (Branscomb, 1994). Here we see a power and control dominance occurring. The power and control is with the photoborg who has the ability to record, store and share the information gathered. On the other hand, the bystander is powerless and at the mercy of the photoborg, unless he/she voices otherwise explicitly. In addition, bystanders may not be so concerned with an actual live recording for personal archives, but certainly are concerned about public viewing. Often lifelogs are streamed in real-time and near real-time, which does not grant the bystander confidence with respect to acceptable use cases.

In the scenario, Sophie poses a question to those who are being incidentally recorded by Anthony’s GoPro to see whether there is an expectation among her peers to get individual consent prior to a recording taking place. Oxford, the mutual acquaintance of the protagonists, believes that consent is paramount in this process. This raises a pertinent question: what about the practice of lifelogging? Lifeloggers could not possibly have the consent of every single person they encounter in a daily journey. Is lifelogging acceptable insofar as lifeloggers choose not to share recordings online or anywhere public? Mann (2005) argues that a person wishing to do lifelong sousveillance deserves certain legal protections against others who might attempt to disrupt continuity of evidence, say for example, while going through immigration. On the other hand, Harfield (2014) extends the physical conception of a private space in considering the extent to which an individual can expect to be private in a public space, defining audio-visual recording of a subject without their consent in public spaces as a moral wrong and seeing the act of sousveillance as a moral intrusion against personal privacy.

In the scenario, Sophie pointed out that if someone wanted to record another individual around them, they could easily do so covertly using everyday objects with embedded covert cameras, such as a pen, a key fob, a handbag or even their mobile phone. Sophie was able to put into perspective the various gazes from security cameras when compared to sousveillance. The very thought about the mass surveillance she was under every moment provided a sobering counterbalance, allowing her to experience tolerance for the practice of sousveillance. Yet for Oxford, the security cameras mounted on the walls and ceilings of the Communications Building, provided a level of safety for international students. Oxford clearly justified “security cameras for security reasons”, but could not justify additional “in your face” cameras. Oxford did not wish to come across a sousveiller because the recordings could be made publicly available on the Internet without his knowledge. Further, a clear motive for the recordings had not been conveyed by the camera holder (Michael et al., 2014).

Between 1994 and 1996, Steve Mann conducted a Wearable Wireless Webcam experiment to visually record and continuously stream live video from his wearable computer to the World Wide Web. Operating 24 hours a day (on and off), this had the effective purpose of capturing and archiving day-to-day living from the person’s own perspective (Mann, 2005). Mann has argued that in the future, devices that captured lifelong memories and shared them in real-time would be commonplace and worn continuously (Mann, 2013).

It is true that almost everywhere we go in our daily lives someone, somewhere, is watching. But in the workplace, especially, where there is intent to watch an employee, the law states that individuals must be notified that they are being watched (Australasian Legal Information Institute, 2015). When it comes to sousveillance will this be the case as well? In Australia, the use, recording, communication or publication of recorded information from a surveillance device under a warrant is protected data and cannot be openly shared according to the Surveillance Device Act 2004 (Cth). In the near future when we are making a recording with an overt device, a prospective sousveillance law might posit: “You can see that I am recording you but this is for personal use only and as long as I do not share this video with someone you cannot do or say anything to stop me.” Mann (2005) claims that sousveillance, unlike surveillance, will require, and receive, strong legal support through dedicated frameworks for its protection, as well as for its limitation (Mann & Wassell, 2013).

A person can listen to, or visually monitor, a private activity if s/he is a participant in the activity (Australasian Legal Information Institute, 2014). However, this Act forbids a person to install, use or maintain an optical surveillance device or a listening device to record a private activity whether the person is a party to the activity or not. The penalties do not apply to the use of an optical surveillance device or listening device resulting in the unintentional recording or observation of a private activity (Surveillance Devices Act, 1998 (WA)). Clarke (2014) combines optical surveillance device regulation with the regulation for listening devices and concludes that a person can listen to conversations if they are a participant in the activity but cannot make audio or visual recordings. The applications of the law cover only a limited range of situations and conditions may apply for prosecutions.

Scenario 4: Ordering at the Café


Anthony and Sophie approached the counter of a café to place their orders and Anthony soon found himself engaged in a conversation with the attendants at the serving area about the camera he was wearing. He asked the attendants how they felt about being filmed. The male attendant said he did not like it very much and the female barista said she would not mind being filmed. The manager did not comment about any aspect of the head-mounted GoPro recording taking place but he did make some derogatory comments about Anthony’s behavior to Sophie. The male attendant became disturbed about the idea of someone recording him while he was at work and he tried to direct Anthony to the manager, knowing that the manager would not like it either, and it would disturb him even more. Conversely, however, the female barista was far from upset about the impromptu recording, acting as if she was on a reality TV show, and taken by the fact that someone seemed to show some interest to her, overcoming the normal daily routine.

Exhibitionism, Hesitation, and Unease

People tend to care a great deal about being watched over or scrutinized and this is reflected in their social behaviors and choices, which are altered as a result without them even realizing (Nettle et. al., 2012). Thus, some people who generally do not like being recorded (like the male attendant), might be subconsciously rejecting the idea of having to change their behaviors. Others, like the manager, simply ignore the existence of the device and others still, like the female attendant, feel entirely comfortable in front of a camera, even playing up and portraying himself or herself as someone “they want to be seen as”.

Anthony did not understand why people found the camera on his head disturbing with the additional concerns about being recorded. In certain cases where people seemed to show particular interest, Anthony decided to engage others about how they felt about being filmed and tried to understand what their reactions were to constant ground-level surveillance. Anthony himself had not been educated with respect to campus policy or the laws pertaining to audio-visual recording in a public space. Anthony was unaware that in Australia, surveillance device legislation differs greatly between states but, broadly, audio and/or visual recording of a private activity is likely to be illegal whatever the context (Clarke, 2014). An activity is, however, only considered to be “private” when it is taking place inside a building, and in the state of New South Wales this includes vehicles. People, however, are generally unaware that prohibitions may not apply if the activity is happening outside a building, regardless of context (Clarke, 2014).

If people were to see someone wearing a head-mounted camera as they were going about their daily routine, it would doubtless gain their attention, as it is presently an unusual occurrence. When we leave our homes, we do not expect pedestrians to be wearing head-mounted cameras, nor, (although increasingly we know we are under surveillance in taxis, buses, trains, and other forms of public transport), do we expect bus drivers, our teachers, fellow students, family or friends to be wearing body-worn recording devices. Having said that, policing has had a substantial impact on raising citizen awareness of body-worn audio-visual recording devices. We now have mobile cameras on cars, on highway patrol police officer helmets, and even on the lapels of particular police officers on foot. While this has helped to decrease the number of unfounded citizen complaints against law enforcement personnel on duty, it is also seen as a retaliatory strategy to everyday citizens who now have a smartphone video recorder at hand 24x7.

Although the average citizen does not always feel empowered to question one’s authority to record, everyone has the right to question the intended purpose of the video being taken of him or her, and how or where it will be shared. In this scenario, does Anthony have the right to record others as he pleases without their knowledge, either of him making the recording, or of the places where that recording might end up? Would Anthony get the same reaction if he were making the recordings with his smartphone? Owners of smart phones would be hard-pressed to say that they have never taken visual recordings of an activity where there are bystanders in the background that they do not know and from whom they have not gained consent. Such examples include children’s sporting events, wedding receptions, school events, attractions and points of interest and a whole lot more. Most photoborgs use the line of argumentation that says: “How is recording with a GoPro instead of a smartphone any different”? Of course, individuals who object to being subjected to point of view surveillance (PoVS) have potential avenues of protection (including trespass against property, trespass against the person, stalking, harassment etc.), but these protections are limited in their applications (Clarke, 2014). Even so, the person using PoVS technology has access to far more protection than the person they are monitoring even if they are doing so in an unreasonable manner (Clarke, 2014).

Scenario 5: Finding a Table at the Café


In this scenario, patrons at an on-campus café vacated their chairs almost immediately after Anthony and Sophie sat down at the large table. Anthony and Sophie both realized the camera was driving people away from them. Sophie insisted at that point in the scenario, that Anthony at least stopped recording if he was unwilling to take off the device itself. After Cygneta and Klara (Sophie’s acquaintances) had joined them at the table, Anthony, interested in individual reactions and trying to prove a point to Sophie, asked Klara how she felt about being filmed. He received the responses that he had expected. Klara did not like being filmed one bit by something worn on someone’s head. Moreover, despite being a marketing student, she had not even heard of Google Glass when Anthony tried to share his perspective around the issue by bringing up the technology in conversation. This fell on deaf ears, he thought, despite Cygneta’s thought that visual data might well be the future of marketing strategies. Anthony tried to make an argument that if a technology like Google Glass was to become prevalent on campus in a couple of years that they would not have any say about being recorded by a stranger. Sophie supported Anthony from a factual standpoint reinforcing that there were no laws in Australia prohibiting video recordings in public. That is, across the States and Territories of Australia, visual surveillance in public places are not subject to general prohibitions except when the person(s) would reasonably expect their actions to be private if they were engaging in a private act (NSW); or if the person(s) being recorded had a strong case for expecting he/she would not be recorded (Victoria, WA, NT); and in SA, Tasmania and ACT legislations for recording other people subject to various provisos (Clarke, 2014).

The reactions of Klara and Cygneta got Sophie thinking about gender and if men were more likely than women to get enthralled by technological devices. She could see this happening with drones and wearable technologies like smart watches - and came to the realization that the GoPro was no different. Some male surfers (including Anthony) and skateboard riders had well and truly begun to use their GoPros to film themselves doing stunts, then sharing these on Instagram. She reflected on whether or not people, in general, would begin to live a life of “virtual replays” as opposed to living in the moment. When reality becomes hard to handle, people tend to escape to a virtual world where they create avatars and act “freely”, leading to the postponement of the hardships of real life, and some may even become addicted to this as being a more exciting lifestyle. These issues are further explored in the following popular articles: Ghorayshi (2014), Kotler (2014) and Lagorio (2006).

Novelty and Market Potential

The patrons at the first table appeared to find the situation awkward and they rectified this problem by removing themselves from the vicinity of Anthony and his camera. Klara did not possess adequate knowledge about emerging wearable technology, and she claimed she would not use it even if it were readily available. But once wearable computers like Google Glass permeated the consumer market, Cygneta, who seemed like she ‘kept up with the Joneses’, said she would likely start using it at some point, despite Klara’s apparent resistance. While smartphones were a new technology in the 1990s, currently close to one third of the world’s population are using them regularly, with 70% projected by 2020 (Ericsson, 2015). One reason this number is not bigger is low-income countries with widespread rural populations and vast terrains: the numbers are expected to rise massively in emerging markets. By comparison wearable computers are basically advanced versions of existing technology and thus uptake of wearable technologies will likely be seamless and even quicker. As with smartphone adoption, as long as they are affordable, wearable computers such as Digital Glass and smartwatches can be expected to be used as much as, or even more than, smartphones, given they are always attached to the body or within arm’s reach.

Scenario 6: A Visit to the Bank


When Sophie and Anthony visited the bank, Anthony sat down as Sophie asked for assistance from one of the attendants. Even if Anthony was not the one who needed help, he thought people working at the bank seemed to be more friendly than usual towards him. He was asked, in fact, if he wanted some assistance with anything, and when he confirmed he did not, no further questioning by the bank manager was conducted. He thought it strange that everyone was so casual about his camera, when everyone else that day had made him feel like a criminal. Again, he was acutely aware that he was in full view of the bank’s surveillance camera but questioned if anyone was really watching anyway. The couple later queued up at the ATM where Anthony mentioned that had he had some disingenuous intentions: he could be filming people and acquiring their PINs so easily. No one had even attempted to cover up their PIN entry, even though there were now signs near the keypad to “cover up”. This entire situation made Sophie feel very uncomfortable and slightly irritated by Anthony. It was after all a criminal act to shoulder surf someone’s PIN, but to have it on film as well to replay later was outrageous. It seemed to her that, no matter how much advice people get about protecting their identity or credit from fraud, they just don’t seem to pay attention. To Anthony’s credit, he too, understood the severity of the situation and admittedly felt uncomfortable by the situation in which, with no malicious intent, he had accidentally found himself.


This scenario illustrates that people in the workplace who are under surveillance are more likely to help clients. Anthony’s camera got immediate attention and a forward request: “Can I help you?” When individuals become publicly self-aware that they are being filmed, then their propensity to help others generally increases. The feeling of public self-awareness created by the presence of a camera triggers the change in behavior in accordance with a pattern that signifies concerns with any damage that could be done to reputation (Van Bommel et. al., 2012).

Anthony also could not keep himself from questioning the security measures that the bank should be applying given the increase in incidence of cheap embedded cameras in both stationary and mobile phones. When queuing in front of the ATM for Sophie’s cash withdrawal, Anthony noticed that he was recording, unintentionally, something that could easily be used for criminal activities and he started seeing the possible security breaches which would come with emerging wearables. For example, video evidence can be zoomed in to reveal private data. While some believe that personal body worn recording devices protect the security of the individual wearer from mass surveillance, rectifying some of the power imbalances, in this instance the recording devices have diminished security by their very presence. It is a paradox, and while it all comes down to the individual ethics of the photoborg, it will not take long for fraudsters to employ such measures.

Scenario 7: In the Library


After the ATM incident, Anthony began to consider more deeply the implications of filming others in a variety of contexts. It was the very first time he had begun to place himself in other people’s shoes and see things from their perspective. In doing this, he became more cautious in the library setting. He avoided glaring at the computer screens of other users around him, as he could then record what activities they were engaged in online, what they were searching for on their Internet browser, and more. He attracted the attention of certain people he came across in the library, because obviously he looked different, even weird. For the first time that day, he felt like he was going to get into serious trouble when he was talking to the librarian who was questioning him about his practice. The librarian claimed that Anthony had absolutely no right to record other people without their permission, as it was against campus policies. Anthony did take this seriously, but he was pretty sure there was no policy against using a GoPro on campus. When Anthony asked the librarian to refer him to the exact policy and university web link, despite clearly stating that his actions were a breach of university rules, the librarian could not provide a link. She did say, however, that she would be calling the library management to convey to them that she suspected that someone was in the library in breach of university policy. While this conversation was happening, things not only began to become less clear for Anthony, but he could sense that things were escalating in seriousness and that he was about to get into some significant trouble.

Campus Policies, Guidelines, and Normative Expectations

The questions raised in this scenario are not only about privacy but also about the issues around the University’s willingness to accept certain things as permitted behavior on campus property. Token inappropriate filming of other individuals was presently a hot news item, as many young women were victims of voyeuristic behavior, such as upskirting with mobile phone cameras, and more. Yet, many universities simply rely on their “Student Conduct Rules” for support outside criminal intent. For example, a typical student conduct notice states that the students have a responsibility to conduct themselves in accordance with:

1. Campus Access and Order Rules,

2. IT Acceptable Use Policy, and

3. Library Code of Conduct.

However, none of these policies typically provide clear guidelines on audiovisual recordings by students.

Campus policies here are approved by the University Council, and various policies address only general surveillance considerations about audio-visual recordings. The Campus Access and Order Rules specifies that University grounds are private properties (University of Wollongong, 2014), and under the common law regarding real property, the lawful occupiers of land have the general right to prevent others from being on, or doing acts on, their land, even if an area on the land is freely accessible to the public (Clarke, 2014). It is Clarke’s latter emphasis which summarises exactly the context of a typical university setting which can be considered a closed-campus but open to the public.

The pace of technological change poses challenges for the law, and deficiencies in regulatory frameworks for Point of View Surveillance exist in many jurisdictions in Australia (Clarke, 2014). Australian universities as organizations are also bound (in this case) by the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 (NSW) and the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW) (Australasian Legal Information Institute, 2016), which again do nothing to specify what is permitted in terms of rules or policies about sousveillance in actions committed by a student on campus grounds.

Scenario 8: Security on Campus


Security arrived at the scene of the incident and escorted Anthony to the security office. By this stage Anthony believed that this might well become a police matter. Security did not wish to ask Anthony questions about his filming on campus but ostensibly wanted to check whether or not Anthony’s GoPro had been stolen. There had been a spate of car park thefts, and it was for this that Anthony was being investigated. Anthony then thought it appropriate to ask them several questions about the recordings he had made, to which security mentioned the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW) and how they had to put signage to warn people about the cameras and the fact that activity was being recorded. Additionally, Anthony was told that CCTV footage could be shared only with the police, and that cameras on campus were never facing people but were facing toward the roadways, and footpaths. When Anthony reminded the security about Google Glass and asked if they had a plan for when Glass would be used on the campus, the security manager replied that everything would be thought about when the time arrived. Anthony left to attend a lecture for which he was once again late.

Security Breaches, the Law, and Enforcement

Anthony was not satisfied with the response of the security manager about campus rules pertaining to the filming of others. While Anthony felt very uncomfortable about the footage he had on his camera, he still did not feel that the university’s security office provided adequate guidance on acceptable use. The security manager had tended to skirt around providing a direct response to Anthony, probably because he did not have any concrete answers. First, the manager brought up the Video Piracy Policy topic and then the University’s IT Acceptable Use Policy. Anthony felt that those policies had nothing to do with him. First, he was sure he was not conducting video piracy in any way, and second, he was not using the university’s IT services to share his films with others or exceed his Internet quota, etc. Somehow, the manager connected this by saying that the recording might contain copyrighted material on it, and that it should never be transferred through the university’s IT infrastructure (e.g. network). He also shared a newspaper article with Anthony that was somehow supposed to act as a warning message but it just didn’t make sense to Anthony how all of that was connected to the issue at hand.

Scenario 9: Sophie’s Lecture


Arriving at the lecture theater after the lecture had already begun, Anthony and Sophie opened the door and the lecturer noticed the camera mounted on Anthony’s head. The lecturer immediately became infuriated, asking Anthony to remove the camera and to leave his classroom. Even after Anthony left the class, the lecturer still thought he might be being recorded through the lecture theatre’s part-glass door and so he asked Anthony to leave the corridor as well. The entire time, the GoPro was not recording any of the incidents. The incident became heated, despite Anthony fully accepting the academic’s perspective. It was the very last thing that Anthony had expected by that point in the day. It was absolutely devastating to him.

Ethics, Power, Inequality, and Non-Participation

Every student at an Australian university has academic freedom and is welcome to attend lectures whether or not they are enrolled in the subject. However, it is the academic instructor’s right to privacy to keep a student from recording his or her class. A lecturer’s classes are considered “teaching material” and the lecturer owns the intellectual property of his/her teaching material (University of Wollongong, 2014). In keeping with the aforementioned statements, any recording of lectures should be carried out after consulting with the instructor. Some lecturers do not even like the idea of Echo 360, as it can be used for much more than simply recording a lecture for reuse by students. Lecture recordings could be used to audit staff or surveil whether staff are doing their job properly, display innovative teaching techniques, possess poor or good knowledge of content, and stick to time or take early marks. Some faculty members also consider the classroom to be a sacred meeting place between them and students and would never wish for a camera to invade this intimate gathering. Cameras and recordings would indeed stifle a faculty member’s or a student’s right to freedom of speech if the video was ever to go public. It would also mean that some students would simply not contribute anything to the classroom if they knew they were being taped, or that someone might scrutinize their perspectives and opinions on controversial matters.

Possible Future Implications Drawn from Scenarios

In the scenarios, in almost every instance, the overt nature of Anthony’s wearable recording device, given it was head-mounted, elicited an instantaneous response. Others displayed a variety of responses and attitudes including that:

1. They liked it,

2. They did not mind it,

3. They were indifferent about it,

4. They did not like it and finally,

5. They were disturbed by it.

Regardless of which category they belonged to, however, they did not explicitly voice their feelings to Anthony, although body language and facial expressions spoke volumes. In this closed campus scenario, the majority of people who came into contact with Anthony fell under the first two categories. It also seems clear that some contexts were especially delicate, for instance, taking the camera (while still recording) into the restroom, an obviously private amenity. It is likely that individuals in the restroom would have had no problem with the GoPro filming outside the restroom setting.

Research into future technologies and their respective social implications is urgent, since many emerging technologies are here right now. Whatever the human mind can conjure is liable to be designed, developed, and implemented. The main concern is how we choose to deal with it. In this final section, issues drawn from the scenarios are speculatively extended to project future implications when wearable computing has become more ubiquitous in society.

Privacy, Security, and Trust

Privacy experts claim that while we might once have been concerned, or felt uncomfortable with, CCTV being as pervasive as it is today, we are shifting from a limited number of big brothers to ubiquitous little brothers (Shilton, 2009). The fallacy of security is that more cameras do not necessarily mean a safer society, and statistics, depending on how they are presented, may be misleading about reductions in crime in given hotspots. Criminals do not just stop committing crime (e.g. selling drugs) because a local council installs a group of multi-directional cameras on a busy public route. On the contrary, crime has been shown to be redistributed or relocated to another proximate geographic location. In a study for the United Kingdom’s Home Office (Gill & Spriggs, 2005), only one area of the 14 studied saw a drop in the number of incidents that could be attributed to CCTV.

Questions of trust seem to be the biggest factor militating against wearable devices that film other people who have not granted their consent to be recorded. Many people may not like to be photographed for reasons we don’t quite understand, but it remains their right to say, “No, leave me alone.” Others have no trouble being recorded by someone they know, so long as they know they are being recorded prior to the record button being pushed. Still others show utter indifference, claiming that there is no longer anything personal out in the open. Often, the argument is posed that anyone can watch anyone else walk down a street. This argument fails however: watching someone cross the road is not the same as recording them cross the road, whether by design or by sheer coincidence. Handing out requests for deletion every time someone asks whether they’ve been captured on camera is not good enough. Allowing people to opt out “after the fact” is not consent-based and violates fundamental human rights including the control individuals might have over their own image and the freedom to go about their life as they please (Bronitt & Michael, 2012).

Laws, Regulations, and Policies

At the present time, laws and regulations pertaining to surveillance and listening devices, privacy, telecommunications, crimes, and even workplace relations require amendments to keep pace with advancements in wearable and even implantable sensors. The police need to be viewed as enforcing the laws that they are there to upkeep, not to don the very devices they claim to be illegal. Policies in campus settings, such as universities, also need to address the seeming imbalance in what is, and is not, possible. The commoditization of such devices will only lead to even greater public interest issues coming to the fore. The laws are clearly outdated, and there is controversy over how to overcome the legal implications of emerging technologies.

Creating new laws for each new device will lead to an endless drafting of legislation, which is not practicable, and claiming that existing laws can respond to new problems is unrealistic, as users will seek to get around the law via loopholes in a patchwork of statutes. Cameras provide a power imbalance. Initially, only a few people had mobile phones with cameras: now they are everywhere. Then, only some people carried body-worn video recorders for extreme sports: now, increasingly, many are using a GoPro, Looxcie, or Taser Axon glasses. These devices, while still nascent, have been met with some acceptance, in various contexts including some business-centric applications. Photoborgs might feel they are “hitting back” at all the cameras on the walls that are recording 24×7, but this does not cancel out the fact that the photoborgs themselves are doing exactly what they are claiming a fixed, wall-mounted camera is doing to them.

Future Implications

All of the risks mentioned above are interrelated. If we lack privacy, we lose trust; if we lack security, we feel vulnerable; if we lose our anonymity, we lose a considerable portion of our liberty and when people lose their trust and their liberty, then they feel vulnerable. This kind of scenario is deeply problematic, and portends a higher incidence of depression, as people would not feel they had the freedom to act and be themselves, sharing their true feelings. Implications of this interrelatedness are presented in Figure 1.

Since 100% security does not exist in any technological system, privacy will always be a prominent issue. When security is lacking, privacy becomes an issue, individuals become more vulnerable and the anonymity of an individual comes into question. A loss of anonymity limits people’s liberty to act and speak as they want and eventually people start losing their trust in each other and in authorities. When the people are not free to express their true selves, they become withdrawn and despite a high-tech community, people may enter a state of despondency. The real question will be in the future when it is not people who are sporting these body-worn devices, but automated data collection machines like Knightscope’s K5 (Knightscope, 2016). These will indeed be mobile camera surveillance units, converging sousveillance and surveillance in one clean sweep (Perakslis et al., 2014).

Figure 1. Major implications of wearables: the utopian and dystopian views

Future Society

Mann (2013) argues that wearable sousveillance devices that are used in everyday life to store, access, transfer and share information will be commonplace, worn continuously and perhaps even permanently implanted. Michael and Michael (2012, p. 195) in their perception of the age of Überveillence state:

There will be a segment of the consumer and business markets who will adopt the technology for no clear reason and without too much thought, save for the fact that the technology is new and seems to be the way advanced societies are heading. This segment will probably not be overly concerned with any discernible abridgement of their human rights nor the small print ‘terms and conditions agreement’ they have signed, but will take an implant on the promise that they will have greater connectivity to the Internet, and to online services and bonus loyalty schemes more generally.

Every feature added on a wearable device adds another layer of risk to the pre-existing risks. Currently, we may only have capabilities to store, access, transfer and manipulate the gathered data but as the development of technology continues, context-aware software will be able to interpret vast amounts of data into meaningful information that can be used by unauthorized third parties. It is almost certain that the laws will not be able to keep up with the pace of the technology. Accordingly, individuals will have to be alert and aware, and private and public organizations will need to set rules and guidelines to protect their employees’ privacy, as well as their own.

Society’s ability to cope with the ethical and societal problems that technology raises has long been falling behind the development of such technology and the same can be said for laws and regulations. With no legal protection and social safe zone, members of society are threatened with losing their privacy through wearable technology. When the technology becomes widespread, privacy at work, in schools, in supermarkets, at the ATM, on the Internet, even when walking, sitting in a public space, and so on, is subject to perishability.

The future is already here and, since the development of technology is seemingly unstoppable, there is more to come, but for any possible futures that may come, there needs to be a healthy human factor. “For every expert there’s an equal and opposite expert” (Sowell, 1995, p. 102; also sometimes attributed to Arthur C. Clarke). So even as we are enthusiastic about how data collected through wearable technology will enhance the quality of our daily life, we also have to be cautious to think about our security and privacy issues in an era of ubiquitous wearable technology. In this sense, creating digital footprints of our social and personal lives with the possibility of them being exposed publicly do not seem to coincide with the idea of a “healthy society”.

One has to ponder: where next? Might we be arguing that we are nearing the point of total surveillance, as everyone begins to record everything around them for “just in case” reasons such as insurance protection, establishing liability, and complaint handling (much like the in-car black box recorder unit can clear you of wrongdoing in an accident)? How gullible might we become to think that images and video footage do not lie, even though a new breed of hackers might manipulate and tamper with digital reality to their own ends. The überveillance trajectory refers to the ultimate potentiality for embedded surveillance devices like swallowable pills with onboard sensors, tags, and transponder IDs placed in the subdermal layer of the skin (Michael & Michael, 2013). Will the new frontier be surveillance of the heart and mind?

Discussion Points

• Does sound recording by wearable devices present any ethical dilemmas?

• Are wearable still cameras more acceptable than wearable video cameras?

• What should one do if bystanders of a recording in a public space question why they are being recorded?

• What themes are evident in the videos and the comments on Surveillance Camera Man Channel at

• What is the difference between making a recording with a smartphone and with a head mounted camera?

• If one juxtaposes a surveillance camera covertly integrated into a light fixture, with an overt head-mounted camera, then why should the two devices elicit a different response from bystanders?

• In what ways is a CCTV in a restroom any different from a photoborg in a restroom?
• Are there gender differences in enthusiasm for certain wearables? Who are the innovators of these technologies?

• What dangers exist around Internet addiction, escapism, and living in a virtual world?

• Are we nearing the point of total information surveillance? Is this a good thing? Will it decrease criminal activity or are we nearing a Minority Report style future?

• Will the new frontier be surveillance of the heart and mind beyond anything Orwell could have envisioned?

• How can the law keep pace with technological change?

• Can federal and state laws be in contradiction over the rights of a photoborg? How?

• Watch the movie The Final Cut. Watch the drama The Entire History of You. What are the similiarities and differences? What does such a future mean for personal security and national security?

• Consider in small groups other scenarios where wearables would be welcome as opposed to unwelcome.

• In which locations should body-worn video cameras never be worn?


• What is meant by surveillance, sousveillance and überveillance?

• What is a photoborg? And what is “point of view” within a filming context?

• Research the related terms surveillance, dataveillance, and überveillence.

• What does Steve Mann’s “Request for Deletion” webpage say? Why is it largely untenable?

• Why did Google decide to focus on industry applications of Glass finally, and not the total market?

• Are we ready to see many (overt or covert) sousveillers in our everyday life?

• Will we all be photoborgs one day, or live in a society where we need to be?

• Do existing provisions concerning voyeurism cover all possible sousveillance situations?

• If lifelogs are streamed in real-time and near real-time what can bystanders shown do about the distribution of their images (if they are ever find out)?

• Is lifelong lifelogging feasible? Desirable? Should it be suspended in confidential business meetings, going through airport security and customs or other areas? Which areas?

• Should citizens film their encounters with police, given police are likely to be filming it too?

• Should the person using PoVS technology have more legal protection than persons they are monitoring?

• Are wearables likely to be rapidly adopted and even outpace smartphone use?


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Key Terms and Definitions

Body-Worn Video (BWV): These are cameras that are embedded in devices that can be worn on the body to record video, typically by law enforcement officers. Closed-Campus: Refers to any organization or institution that contains a dedicated building(s) on a bounded land parcel offering a range of online and offline services, such as banking, retail, sporting. Closed campus examples include schools and universities.

Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV): Also referred to as video surveillance. CCTV is the use of video cameras to transmit a signal to a specific place. CCTV cameras can be overt (obvious) or covert (hidden).

Digital Glass: Otherwise referred to as wearable eyeglasses which house multiple sensors on board. An example of digital glass is Google Glass. The future of digital glass may well be computer-based contact lenses.

Lifelogging: When a user decides to log his/her life using wearable computing or other devices, that have audio-visual capability. It is usually a continuous stream of a recording 24/7.

Personal Security Devices: These are devices that allegedly deter perpetrators from attacking others because they are always on gathering evidence, and ready to record. PSDs may have an on-board alarm alerting central care services for further assistance.

Policy: An enforceable set of organizational rules and principles used to aid decision-making that have penalties for non-compliance, such as the termination of an employee’s contract with an employer.

Private Space: Somewhere geographically that one has an expectation of privacy, naturally. Some examples include: the home, the backyard, and the restroom.

Public Space: Somewhere geographically where there is no expectation of privacy save for when someone holds a private conversation in a private context.

Sousveillance: The opposite of surveillance from above, which includes inverse surveillance, also sometimes described as person-to-person surveillance. Citizens can use sousveillance as a mechanism to keep law enforcement officers accountable for their actions.

Surveillance: “Watching from above” such as CCTV from business buildings. For behaviors, activities, or other changing information to be under the watchful eye of authority, usually for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, or protecting the masses.

Citation: Michael, K., Gokyer, D., & Abbas, S. (2017). Societal Implications of Wearable Technology: Interpreting “Trialability on the Run”. In A. Marrington, D. Kerr, & J. Gammack (Eds.), Managing Security Issues and the Hidden Dangers of Wearable Technologies (pp. 238-266). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-1016-1.ch010