SAN FRANCISCO — The tech/town turmoil continues to grow here as at least one bar asks patrons to remove their Google Glass before entering.
Google Glass are wearable computers mounted on eyeglass frames. Launched in 2013, they are both cool and creepy.
The glasses have became one of several focal points in the escalating tension between young, well-paid tech workers and those who feel their influx threatens to make San Francisco unaffordable to those not earning tech salaries.
On Feb. 21, a tech writer named Sarah Slocum had a pair of the high-tech specs stolen at a punk bar in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Patronsreported they were upset at being recorded during last call. Others noted that flaunting a $1,500 tech toy might make one a robbery target.
That incident has sparked a firestorm of controversy over the Google goggles, which gives users hands-free access to the Internet via voice commands.
The function that concerns people is the glasses' ability to record photos, video and sound.
The Willows bar in San Francisco's tech/hip SOMA district has posted a sign asking they not be worn inside.
"Our patrons have expressed concern with being recorded while enjoying themselves at the Willows," the sign reads, above an image of a pair of Google Glass glasses with a big red no symbol over them. "Kindly Remove Before Entering."
Google itself used the term "glasshole," in a dos and don'ts memo to users posted on its site. One of the don'ts:
"Be creepy or rude (aka, a "Glasshole"). Respect others and if they have questions about Glass don't get snappy. Be polite and explain what Glass does and remember, a quick demo can go a long way. In places where cell phone cameras aren't allowed, the same rules will apply to Glass. If you're asked to turn your phone off, turn Glass off as well."
San Francisco bar owner Kevin Harrington says it's simply a question of good behavior. His bar, The Last Call in the Castro, doesn't ban Google Glass.
"I would base my policy on the reaction of my customers. And I honestly think the majority of them would feel uncomfortable" if someone were filming them without their permission, he said.
People come to bars to relax and socialize. While they certainly don't have a total expectation of privacy —bars are after all public spaces — they might not want to be filmed.
"Some people may not be out (as gay), some people may be having an affair," Harrington said.
He expects "a lot of bars in San Francisco are probably going to start putting signs up about Google Glass," but thinks the whole thing will eventually sort itself out.
To Harrington, the broader issue is San Francisco's changing demographics and how people are reacting to it.
"When gay people moved into the Castro in the 1970s people were complaining. Now it's the tech crowd. The city's changing, but it always changes," he said
Google Glass can take photos and record video, but the wearer must be looking straight at whatever they're recording.
Author and blogger Robert Scoble has had a pair since April.
"People walk in the bathroom with their cellphone in their hand all the time, and that's far more intrusive," he said. "With my Google Glass, I have to stand next to you and look at you. And then I have to either touch my glasses or say 'Google Glass, take a picture.'"
He thinks the expectation of privacy in bars went away years ago. "My brother owns a bar in Virginia and he says 'Man everybody takes pictures in the bar with smartphones!'" he said.
The real issue is that the glasses are new, they're expensive (about $1,500 a pair) and still hard to get, Scoble said.
"When the price drops and people actually get to play with them, it won't be such a big deal," he said. "Until then, we're going to have this friction between haves and have-nots."
The topic's definitely coming up around town. Computational linguist Raymond Flournoy was at a coffee bar in San Francisco on Tuesday where baristas were talking about Google Glass.
"One said that he'd actually told a customer that he wasn't comfortable with him wearing the glasses while he served him."
New York author Gary Shteyngart imagined something similar in his book Super Sad Super True Story in 2011. In it, everyone wears a computer on a pendant that tells them everything about everyone they meet.
He tried out Google Glass last year, but it didn't measure up to his imagination. "
"You can't look at someone and have it use facial recognition software to know who they are, how much they're worth and everything about them, just by blinking," he said. "So far, Google Glass isn't as scary as I hoped it would be, for my own dystopian, purposes."