The winter weather made my hands numb. I was distracted, rushed, running late to a meeting. Put those two things together, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
The cab had already gone two blocks before I realized my Google Glass was no longer in my hand. I asked the driver to swing back around to where he picked me up; I retraced my steps along the snowy street to my apartment, looking for my $1,500 device. No luck. Total panic.
Someone must have picked it up, I thought. I started venting to a friend via instant message; they pinged back:
Is there anyway to identify them, like someone will put them on and they will see your name?
I tapped back: Yes. They will see my email
Well hopefully someone with a conscience picks them up, my friend replied.
Yeah, right. But at least Google Glass isn’t like a phone; it’s difficult for someone to connect their Google account to the device and start using it.
The Glass Guide
When I dialed Glass Support, the Glass Guide asked if my device had its Screen Lock activated.
It did not, sadly. So stupid, so stupid, so stupid, I thought. I’d just received the next-generation version of Glass a few weeks ago, and in that time I’d failed to set up the lock screen. Did I feel guilty? You bet.
The Glass Guide suggested that I factory reset the device, which I did. Except the reset works when whoever picks up my Google Glass tries to connect to the Internet—they could still look through any photos, video, and email I linked to the account.
The Glass Guide said he’d have to call me back; he hasn’t dealt with a lost Glass case before, and wanted to find out what other things to suggest to me. A few hours later, I got a call from Google suggesting that I reset my password on my email.
Done. Password changed. While I was at it, I added two-step authentication to be safe. Changing my password was my last line of defense. But whatever media I had on the device was easily viewable by whoever found my Glass.
“On head detection is another good security precaution that will turn the Glass screen off when it’s removed from a user’s head,” a Google spokesperson said. “Glass isn’t any different from a smart phone when it comes to email. If you lose it and don’t have screenlock enabled, cached emails are vieweable (as they would be on a smartphone). This is why it’s important to enable screenlock to make your email more secure. Also, once the device is connected to Wi-Fi – provided gmail has been disabled and a factory reset made—the device will wipe all personal info from it.”
I lost sleep that night. In the morning, I called Google Support again to find out more about the technical details of how the device gets wiped. Before I could fire away with my questions, though, the Glass Guide said that someone had called the day before, saying he found my Google Glass and wanted to return it.
I guess my friend was right after all: someone with a conscience had picked Glass up.
It was 1 P.M. on Saturday when I met “Wing” at an electronics store in Soho. He handed me my bright blue Google Glass in a plastic bag. I wondered: Where was the gray case I ordinarily used to store my Glass?
I wanted to know more about Wing Leung and his detective work. He seemed relieved that he’d traced Glass back to me. He also recognized me, thanks to the photos and video on the device (luckily, I didn’t record or snap any embarrassing media). He kept mentioning that I took photos of NYU, so he assumed I lived around the campus.
According to Leung, he discovered the bright blue Glass in the snow at 3 P.M. on Friday afternoon. He pointed out a chipped portion of the Glass frame; I hoped Google could do something to fix that.
“[Google Glass] was bright blue when I recognized it,” he said. “I was surprised to see it because I knew it was very expensive. When I picked it up, held it and it vibrated so I knew it was a working model. I knew the person was probably panicking because of the price point and I knew that very few people have it.”
Leung told me he posted a photo of his hand holding Glass on his Facebook and wrote: Look what I found on the middle of the street today :/.
That post got 18 likes and 60 comments:
I read through some of the comments his friends left:
“Does it work? It looks futuristic. Does it allow you to see through clothing too?”
“Put the glasses up for sale in the ‘Douche’ section of Craigslist”
“Wing is there a serial number or anything on it? Maybe Google can get you in contact with the owner? I don’t think there’s too many of those out there right now.”
“I admire you, Wing! such an honest thing to do!!! i would have done the same thing.”
Now that I have Glass back in my hands, I admire Leung, too. No one has ever returned anything to me. As he told me about how he tracked me down, I realized he must have spent the majority of the last 24 hours unraveling the mystery of my identity.
“It took me a while to figure it out how to use [Glass],” he said. “I tried to tap it, to get used to the focus, everything I saw was blurry. Anything that would lead me to you was not in there. I saw that it was connected to an email, but I had no access to Internet.” After connecting the device to Wi-Fi (without a passcode), he ran into a dead end; he could see my videos, and tell that I went to NYU, but couldn’t view other data. After a few hours of tinkering with the device itself, he decided to shift gears.
“I tried looking on the Google Glass Website,” he continued, “but the whole website is focused on this is cool, how to get one, how to be an Explorer. The website wasn’t very useful.” But he did find a page where people could submit questions about Glass, which featured a phone number for technical issues. “They were helpful, the guy was really nice. He asked: ‘What’s my Glass number?’ I told him, ‘It’s not mine, I just found it on the floor.’ He said: ‘Are you trying to return it? No one has tried to return a lost Glass before.’”
Google wanted Leung give them the serial number on the Glass—but mine was missing; according to the company, constantly using the device will eventually rub off those digits. So the rep on the phone gave Leung a quick lesson in navigating the various Glass menus, showing him how to find the serial number via the software. That part wasn’t hard.
Leung enjoyed his brief time with the device. “The hardest part was reading it since I still had trouble with the focusing,” he said. “Took me a few minutes of adjusting on my own and a bit of squinting to solve that is issue. From that info they were able to identify you. Maybe that info would help anyone that need to find the owner of another lost Glass.”
So my Glass was in good hands. Leung didn’t seem to care all that much about my information stored on the device—he just wanted clues to my identity so he could return it.
“If a device is lost or stolen, an Explorer can sign into the MyGlass page—either via the web or the MyGlass app on your smartphone—and initiate a remote wipe of all data stored on Glass,” the Google spokesperson told me. “Explorers can also remotely turn off different Glassware like Gmail, Twitter and Google+ from their MyGlass page. If the device is lost, they can use “remote location” to help find it.”
Ryan Calo, assistant professor at the School of Law in the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington, suggested the biggest issue with losing Google Glass is having one’s privacy invaded. “Google seems to have addressed those concerns pretty thoroughly from what they are saying,” he told me. “Other, smaller companies might not have the maturity or the resources to do so and, of course, no security system is perfect.”
That’s not the only reason Glass concerns some people, he added: “Maybe they worry about the ability of hackers or the government to tap into video feed, or note that if you keep a record of any event, it can be subpoenaed by a court or searched at a border.”
I should have turned on the lock screen for extra protection. Then again, who thinks that you’d actually lose Glass? And what does this mean for Fitbit, smart watches, and other wearable tech? We’re human; we misplace things. Which means there’s potentially a huge market for not only stolen electronics, but also the data stored on them.
“We don’t yet know which wearable issues will be accommodated and which will be which will turn out to be offensive,” said Future of Privacy Forum executive director Jules Polonetsky. “Some advances that privacy critics thought would be intrusive, like caller ID for the caller, turned out to be privacy protective to people wanting to screen callers. Wearable cameras may end up doing more to expose things like police brutality than then being used for secret videotaping.”
With more sensors and hardware, Polonetsky added, more issues will arise. As devices get smaller and more ubiquitous (not to mention more chic), the privacy concerns could skyrocket. “Today, there is little likelihood of secret recording… wearing Google Glass blares that you are wearing a camera,” he said. “But life-logging cameras or cameras that blend into glasses are when we will see more risk of actual intrusion. That being said, I need to get the prescription option because I look very, very odd wearing them over my glasses today.”
I might pick up the new Google Glass frames, so I can replace my damaged Glass. But my unit’s bright blue color is probably what saved me in the first place, because it allowed Leung to spot them against the snow.
For 24 hours, I worried that the person who found my Glass would be able to share my photos and videos, and have access to my email. Fortunately, Leung seemed concerned only with using my data to identify me, rather than to steal my personal info.
(I was once mugged for my iPhone, so the sense of losing an electronic gadget with personal data/photos/videos on it triggers memories of that incident, coupled with a strong emotional reaction to the thought of someone else having access to my personal data. So without knowing who was in possession of my Glass, I reacted very strongly and emotionally to its loss.)
Perhaps there’s a simple lesson here: take the time to add the extra safety measures to your wearable electronics, to ensure that your personal data is safe in case your device is lost or stolen.
In a way, I’m glad I got to share the experience of Glass ownership with Leung. He may have been the first person to “own” Google Glass who hadn’t been trained by Google’s Explorer program, and he had to figure out how to tap and swipe all on his own.
But now, Glass is back in its cage… on my desk, collecting dust, while unconnected to the Internet. Its data is preserved just the way it was found: Some random photos of me doing an interview of a scientist at NYU, some not-so-embarrassing videos of me on a date, and some emails describing planning for future stories.
Glass didn’t hold enough data to give Leung the clues to find me, at least without the help of Google tracking me down. But the device holds more than enough data to make me nervous about the possible voyeuristic invasion of my privacy, and the fear of the thought that the media connected to my Glass would possibly end up online, somewhere, cached forever in a Google search. Fortunately, it was Leung who gave me a chance to reboot my Google Glass—but more importantly, in a small way, he reset my faith in humanity.
Image: Boonsri Dickinson