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Clash over Google Glass shows hurdles facing wearable tech

SAN FRANCISCO — A tussle involving a woman wearing Google Glass in a San Francisco bar is just the latest incident to highlight growing tensions over the new wearable technology even before Google Inc. begins selling it to the public.

Sarah Slocum, a 34-year-old technology blogger and social media consultant, said she was "verbally and physically assaulted" over the weekend by patrons of a bar in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

A man allegedly ripped the Glass off Slocum's face and ran out of the bar with it. She got the Glass back but says someone stole her purse and phone. Slocum put video footage of the incident that she filmed using Glass on YouTube.

Several witnesses told KPIX-TV Channel 5 in San Francisco that bar patrons were excited to see how Glass works, but some became upset about the possibility of being recorded by the device and asked Slocum to remove it.

A man who identified himself only as Brian said he was not surprised things got out of hand.

"You know, the crowd at Molotov's is not a tech-oriented crowd for the most part," Brian said. "It's probably one of the more punk rock bars in the city. So you know, it's not really Google Glass country."

That a bar in San Francisco is not Google Glass country shows just how tough it may be for Google to get the public to accept smartglasses the way it has accepted smartphones.

"There is more visceral reaction to this technology than most, and part of that has to do with the fact that you are wearing it on your face," University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo said.

Google Glass performs many of the same functions as smartphones: You can read and reply to emails and text messages, take photographs and film snippets of video.

But the in-your-face nature of the technology has touched a nerve in a society growing increasingly concerned about the invasive nature of new technologies such as wearable gadgets and drones.

Google has gone to great lengths to educate the public about Glass. It has extolled its benefits in media interviews, demonstrated the technology for lawmakers on Capitol Hill and put the technology in the hands of so-called Explorers, early testers who essentially act as "positive ambassadors" for Glass.

The Internet giant also put out basic etiquette and safety tips for Explorers, reminding them to be respectful and to ask permission before taking photos or filming, just as they would with a smartphone.

"New technology raises new concerns, which is why educating Explorers and those around them is a top priority for the Glass team," a Google spokesman said. "The point of the Explorer program is to get Glass in the hands of people from all walks of life and see how they use it out in the world."

Slocum is one of the early testers of Glass. She said she has been wearing the device for about a month and says the reaction has been largely positive.

"Some people think, 'Oh, it's a privacy invasion.' But it's really no different than the smartphones people carry in their pockets," Slocum said. "People just don't understand the technology.... Once I allow people to try it on and show them how it works, they love it. They say, 'Wow, that's so cool.'"

Slocum said some people still don't like it when she wears the device. But she was stunned by the "venom" she experienced while bar hopping with friends. She says several bar patrons insulted her, shouted obscenities and even threw a bar rag at her.

Calo, a privacy expert who has tested Glass, said that that kind of reaction to the head-mounted computer "has a large measure of irrationality."

"Glass in its present state is not capable of the kind of privacy invasion worth beating someone up over," Calo said.

Many Glass wearers report little or no negative reaction. But high-profile incidents such as the bar conflict have given the technology a negative perception.

Glass users have been tossed from movie theaters, and a San Diego woman was pulled over for driving with Glass. A few states are considering banning drivers from using Glass out of concern that the small screen will distract them on the road.

And Glass has had its share of run-ins in bars. In November, Lost Lake Cafe & Lounge, a 24-hour diner and bar in Seattle, said it had to ban Google Glass after a customer refused to stop wearing and operating the device inside the restaurant. Another bar in Seattle, the 5 Point Cafe, was the first to ban Google Glass. The two establishments are owned by the same restaurateur.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

Twitter: @jguynn

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