FBI Drags Google Glass Man From Theater on Piracy Fears

Google Glass is expected to transform the way that people interact with data and communications but for one unlucky user a paranoid reaction to the device ended up becoming a huge time waster. After wearing a turned off and prescription lens-equipped model to the theater, a man had it torn from his face on suspicion he was engaging in movie piracy. Several hours later the FBI conceded they'd made a big mistake.

glassSometime during 2014 the much-anticipated Google Glass will launch to the general public. When it does the age of the wearable computer will have truly arrived in the form of a relatively unobtrusive pair of eye glasses.

While every technology enthusiast is bursting to at least test the device, there are concerns over its appearance. On the one hand it looks cool and futuristic, but on the other it could quickly be perceived in the same way as the original bluetooth ear-piece.

Nevertheless, in a few months time thousands of people will be wearing them, which will only serve to amplify the already considerable debate over the device. From the inside looking out, the integrated video camera is generating privacy worries in abundance and just last week a San Diego traffic court threw out a traffic violation against a Californian motorist after she was accused of watching video on her Glass while driving.

And now, right on cue, for the first time a Glass user has revealed the kind of treatment people can expect from the movie industry should they dare to wear even a switched-off device in one of their establishments.

Last Saturday evening a man and his wife attended the AMC movie theater in Easton Mall, Columbus, Ohio, to watch Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The Glass unit itself was switched off, but out of convenience the man had paid for prescription lenses to be fitted to the device turning them into regular glasses. Sadly, theater staff and their friends at the MPAA and FBI were geared up to presume only the worst.

“About an hour into the movie, a guy comes near my seat, shoves a badge that had some sort of a shield on it, yanks the Google Glass off my face and says ‘follow me outside immediately’. It was quite embarrassing and outside of the theater there were about 5-10 cops and mall cops,” the man told Gadgeteer.

After trying to establish the official’s identity and authority (and trying to get his property back), the man was put firmly in his place.

“You see all these cops, you know we are legit, we are with the ‘federal service’ and you have been caught illegally taping the movie,” he was told.

AMC

His protests that this was a big misunderstanding only led to the couple being split up and taken to different rooms. The man was searched and his wallet plus work and personal phones (both off) were taken away from him.

“What followed was over an hour of the ‘feds’ telling me I am not under arrest, and that this is a ‘voluntary interview’, but if I choose not to cooperate bad things may happen to me,” he explained.

“They wanted to know who I am, where I live, where I work, how much I’m making, how many computers I have at home, why am I recording the movie, who am I going to give the recording to, why don’t I just give up the guy up the chain, ’cause they are not interested in me. Over and over and over again.”

And then yet more paranoia. Even though the Google Glass was switched off the man wasn’t allowed to touch the device out of fear he would “erase the evidence.” The FBI also asked some pretty strange questions.

“Then they wanted to know what does Google ask of me in exchange for Glass, how much is Google paying me, who is my boss and why am I recording the movie,” he explained.

Finally someone had the good sense to connect the Glass up to a laptop. Five minutes later and all family photos viewed (some 3.5 hours after the movie began) Mr Google Glass wearer was declared an innocent man. But not to worry, since the guy from the ‘movie association’ was about to make amends.

“A guy who claimed his name is Bob Hope (he gave me his business card) came in the room, and said he was with the Movie Association and they have problems with piracy at that specific theater and that specific movie. He gave me two free movie passes ‘so I can see the movie again’,” a gesture that was subsequently upped to four passes after the revelation that AMC had called him first and he’d decided to escalate the matter to the FBI.

This kind of heavy-handed response is what people have come to expect from the movie industry when confronted by people they suspect of piracy. Sure, there’s a need for them to be vigilant, but shooting first and then asking questions later is something that could and should be avoided. Google Glass might be the first device of this type, but it won’t be the last. Expect the problems – and controversy – to continue.

Update: Homeland Security has issued a statement to the Washington Post.

“On Jan. 18, special agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and local authorities briefly interviewed a man suspected of using an electronic recording device to record a film at an AMC theater in Columbus,” said ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls. “The man, who voluntarily answered questions, confirmed to authorities that the suspected recording device was also a pair of prescription eye glasses in which the recording function had been inactive. No further action was taken.”

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