By Andrew Hendricks
We see more of them now—walking among us. Their gaze far-off. Their skin, pale and clammy. We can only remember seeing them once, in the distant past. But now, closer to urban areas, we notice one almost every other day. At least every week. We know there will be more of them. We know soon we will be one of them.
No, I'm not talking about zombies or vampires, but those similar oddities, early adopters of technology who have taken up wearing Google Glass in public.
We all know that advertising is what pays the bills behind the scenes with many major corporations. Yet we are all terrified of what the future of unrestricted advertisement could be.
The sentiment brings to mind a popular Futurama episode where the main character, Fry (a Pizza delivery boy, cryogenically frozen and defrosted in the year 3000) has a strange dream that ends up extolling the virtues of these sexy red space underwear briefs. He tells his coworkers about this with horror, and is met with blase shoulder-shrugging. Companies beam dreams into your head.
"Big deal. It's old news," they tell him. We later see all of them at the mall and Fry has tried on the underwear.
So with Google Glass the new biggest product on the horizon and the biggest question mark since the iPhone, it is understandable that the potential of such technology raises both advertiser eyebrows and end-user concerns.
Already Google has set privacy advocates all a-twitter regarding a recent story published by Business Insider about a “pay-per-gaze” patent Google has filed. Essentially, the patent lays out potential use of the technology where users could be charged every time an advertisement caught their eye by tracking pupil dilation and where the user is looking. As if pop-up ads weren't bad enough.
Of course, it is important to remember that patent technology and a company's intentions are two very different things. Even if Google's motto wasn't the refreshing “Don't be evil,” such a company is not ignorant enough to forget that in the internet age, pitchforks are never in short supply, and such a move would be very bad for business.
However, the fact that such an idea was discussed does raise concerns for even privacy advocates who can't be greater fans of Google. There is no Apple or Microsoft product that is now competing with the Google Glass, however with such a revolutionary and potentially useful device, it is impossible that other companies would not attempt to replicate Google's success, if it is in fact, successful. One should certainly fear less reputable vendors and manufacturers acting on ideas such as Google's “purely hypothetical” patent.
And yet, there is reason to hope for the future of marketing through computational eye-wear when one realizes that successful advertisers of the last decade have been those that make innovative use of new technology, rather than those who try to pull one over on their users. Think QR codes for smart-phones. Social media presence that adds value and interacts and gives prizes to customers. These have been the success stories, and there will be such stories for companies that can get in on the ground floor with Google Glass, or whoever Glass's first competitor will be.
Perhaps such successes will come in the form of companies that add a fun element to the real-life environment-integration Google Glass gives. Imagine billboards that merely looking at sent the Google Glass user an email for a buy-on-get-one-free offer. Imagine being able to load ads ahead of time, and have your bill reduced by a certain amount by however many ads you choose to watch, when convenient for you on a train or bus.
The possibilities are endless. As of now, the few apps currently available have not strayed much from the current paradigm of web and mobile web advertising. Google is well-aware of the concerns users have about etiquette and privacy issues that come with eye-glass computers. We can only wait and see what sort of advertisement users will be comfortable with, and what big ideas will completely change the landscape for advertising in this new arena.