Smartwatches, Google Glass on MPAA Hit List

One of the key features of Google (GOOG) Glass is its camera — complete with the ability to capture 720p video and record almost without detection. There was never really any doubt that Google Glass would quickly end up in the crosshairs of privacy advocates, while also raising hackles in security circles. And if there’s one place where someone sporting Google Glass would be persona non grata, it’s piracy-paranoid movie theaters.

However, at the end of October the Motion Picture Association (MPAA) along with NATO (no, not that NATO; we’re talking about the National Association of Theatre Owners) issued new guidelines with strong language aimed not just at smartphones and Google Glass, but “any wearable intelligent devices.”

Smartwatches not welcome at MPAA theaters
Source: Apple

Under the new rules, attendees could be kicked out of the movies for wearing smartwatches.

Here’s the actual wording of the zero-tolerance policy:

“[R]ecording devices, including wearable devices, must be turned off and put away at show time. Individuals who fail or refuse to put the recording devices away may be asked to leave.”

Yes, Some Smartwatches Have Cameras

Cameras aren’t front and center on every smartwatch, but there are a number of these devices that feature the ability to take digital pictures or video. Industry leader Samsung’s (SSNLF) Galaxy Gear and Gear 2 smartwatches pack cameras. The upcoming Arrow is the latest in a wave of round-faced smartwatches that look an awful lot like a traditional analog wristwatch — but this one packs a 360-degree rotating camera.

Even those smartwatches that can’t capture video can usually still record audio, making them recording devices too.

Smartwatches Are Not Google Glass

Requiring a customer to remove and stow Google Glass before watching a movie is one thing. For most people, the wearable is purely an augmented experience kind of thing. The move earlier this year to sell Google Glass mounted on prescription-friendly frames does add a twist, though — how is someone supposed to watch a movie if forced to remove their prescription eyeglasses?

Smartwatches and similar wearables are quickly evolving into something much different, though.

In their search to convince consumers they need one, consumer electronics companies like Samsung, Apple (AAPL) and now Microsoft (MSFT) are packing their wearables with sensors, turning them into hybrids between the “computer on a wrist” smartphone extension and a fitness tracker.

Add the push into health management through initiatives like HealthKit, S Heath, Microsoft Health and Google Fit — which store health data in the cloud and are on track to feed data to medical systems used by doctors and hospitals — and the prospect of removing your smartwatch or powering it off for several hours becomes not just annoying, but a potential health issue.

In Some Scenarios, Smartwatches Are More Worrisome Than Google Glass

Stepping away from the MPAA and movie piracy, there are other situations where Google Glass has raised concerns. For example, the prospect of someone wearing the augmented reality glasses in a confidential meeting or during a secure facilities tour is problematic.

But it’s pretty obvious that someone is wearing Google Glass, so they can be asked to remove it.

A smartwatch isn’t always easily recognizable as such, especially the latest versions like the Moto 360 that mimic the look of a traditional wristwatch. Yet a smartwatch could be used to snap photos or record a confidential conversation. Many smartwatches run apps and are equipped with microUSB ports, Bluetooth or even Wi-Fi. Theoretically, they could be used for industrial espionage — downloading info from a PC or infecting it with malware.

I’ve already been in situations where I was required to hand over my smartphone to security before being allowed to enter a facility. This could happen with watches, too and not just smartwatches.

Will Security Concerns Derail Consumer Adoption of Smartwatches?

Most of us have come to grips with the rules about blatantly flashing a recording device in movie theaters. We know better than to be holding up a smartphone during a movie and the rules against this have had zero impact on smartphone sales.

Google Glass remains an expensive beta project that’s not yet ready for widespread adoption. Glass Explorers may be put out at rules and regulations that target them, but as an expensive niche, AR glasses in general aren’t feeling the impact.

Smartwatches, on the other hand, are picking up steam and promising to be the next big high tech must-have device. And that’s setting up a collision course between organizations like the MPAA that are worried about the implications of the wearable technology and consumers.

When the Apple Watch lands in the spring, what do you suppose the reaction from owners will be if a movie theater demands they remove their expensive new device? What happens if someone is wearing a smartwatch that’s tracking their heart rate and uploading the data to their doctor for monitoring of a medical condition? What happens if/when they are told to remove it before entering a meeting?

I don’t think for a moment that security concerns are going to slow consumer adoption of smartwatches, but I do think things could get ugly the first time a Homeland Security agent hauls someone out of a movie theater because they left their smartwatch on. Clearly this intersection between wearable technology, security and privacy is something we need to work on, and quickly.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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