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Information Technology Ethics Issues Article Summary

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Ethical risks posed by wearable technology, utilizing “AR” software. Companies like Google are straying away from the once popular Virtual Reality, in favor of what they are calling “Augmented Reality”, or AR. According to Merriam-Webster, AR is “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (as a smartphone camera); also: the technology used to create augmented reality.” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) In order to “augment” our realities, these technologies are recording, storing, altering, and displaying information in real time.

The information they use can be anything, but with products like Google Glass, wearable technology can now modify what and how we see objects, people, or data, in real time. The possibilities of this technology can transform, not only our perception of the items viewed through such objects, but our realities as a whole. Every person, place, or object becomes digitally interactive. We can look at something or someone and capture pictures or video, search for them on the internet, or use facial recognition to match their features to someone that you’ve previously viewed. These are actions that are possible, and practiced, today. The ethical issues that are brought to mind are abundant and daunting. Some of the most prominent ethical issues that will arise are:

How far can cross-device interaction go?
When and where can devices capture this data?
Is this data stored locally or shared?
What level of security will be provided the AR devices?
How will AR users be protected from breach?

Not too long ago, a briefcase was the closest to a mobile phone you could come; big, bulky handheld devices that cost a fortune to operate. Now, it isn’t often that you find children in Middle School without a brand new smartphone in their pocket. Smartphones have changed the way we live, and seeing someone snapping a “selfie” or playing a game on their device is just as common as seeing a person riding a bike, if not more. No one thinks smartphones are out of place, and not having one is now considered odd. It seems inevitable that there will soon be a new generation of technological ubiquity: wearables, like Google Glass or Samsung’s Gear S. However, these new devices bring with them a slew of unknown challenges and complications that will have to be overcome before they can become commonplace.

Device manufacturers not only have to worry about the functionality of their products, but how they can integrate them into other common networks and operating systems as well. With companies like iTunes and Google Play monopolizing the computer application industry, Facebook and Twitter in charge of social media networks, and iOS and Android developing the most commonly used operating systems, businesses would be remiss not to incorporate these apps into their products. Below is a table depicting how common it is to use multiple different social networking sites, in order to be exposed to the highest level of connectivity.

Figure 2.Pew Research Center’s Internet Project August Tracking Survey, 2013. (Duggan & Smith, 2013) Cross-network and cross-device connectivity and sharing is where the real ethical dilemmas begin to surface. Devices today cannot stand alone, in a world focused so much on connectivity. But, when does that connectivity go too far? When do companies focus so much on connectivity and sharing that they all but ignore personal privacy? How much information should a device be able to share? How far should a social media network be able to penetrate into its users’ personal information before it becomes unethical?

Privacy risks and security concerns are only amplified with the addition of these wearable technologies. Devices used to monitor heart rates, stress levels, voice recognition, geolocations, and activity patterns are storing, and possibly sharing, real-time biological and geographical information. With head-mounted devices like Google Glass, that information extends to even seeing what a user is seeing at that moment, and according to Nick Statt, the concerns only get scarier when these new technologies begin employing facial recognition software and its applications.


Duggan, M., & Smith, A. (2013, December 30). Social media matrix. Retrieved from Pew Research Center: http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/12/30/social-media-matrix/ Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Dictionary: augmented reality. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: an Encyclopedia Britannica Company: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/augmented%20reality Statt, N. (2014, January 08). Wearables with augmented reality are mind-blowing — and an ethical nightmare. Retrieved from CNET: http://www.cnet.com/news/wearables-with-augmented-reality-are-mind-blowing-and-an-ethical-nightmare/#ptlink.fid=5086&isc=1&did=bookmark.423d976a8f08ed546f2cc88c14438d3d22086fbf&ctp=article

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