Google

It's Just a Matter of Time Before Porn Returns to Google Glass


Attendees wear Google Glass while posing for a group photo during the Google I/O developer conference on May 17, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif.

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Attendees wear Google Glass while posing for a group photo during the Google I/O developer conference on May 17, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif.

(Corrects timing of Google Glass policy changes and adds company comment)

In 2009, CNET writer Chris Matyszczyk tried to disprove the notion that new forms of technology are inspired largely by pornography. He came up with an idea so ridiculous it would never come to pass.

“If it is really true that pornography pushes technology, what invention will it give rise to next? Porn beamed to the inside of your sunglasses, perhaps?”

Well.

Pornography may not have been the driving force behind the creation of Google Glass, but it didn’t take long for smut peddlers to take to the device. On Monday, MiKandi, a company that runs an adult app store for Android users, announced Tits & Glass, the first pornographic app for the glasses, which Google (GOOG) is just opening up to application developers. The app allows the user to take photographs, share them, and view and rate photographs. More than 60,000 users visited an accompanying website by the end of the day; Google, which updated its policies over the weekend (before any apps for Glass were launched), quickly shut the T&G app down.

“Our policies make it clear that Glass does not allow Glassware content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material,” a company spokesman wrote in an email, adding that any apps that violated the policy would be blocked.

“It’s pretty clear to us what our limitations are with Glass,” says Jennifer McEwan, MiKandi’s co-founder. “What’s unclear is what the consumers can do.” The company believes it should be able to continue functioning as a photo-sharing app that lets users take and share racy photos, so long as they view them only on other devices. Video and photographs recorded by Google Glass are automatically uploaded to a private folder on the user’s Google Plus account. From there, MiKandi could help share it with other interested parties. Such experiments will have to wait, though. According to the company, Google has turned MiKandi’s API limit to zero, which essentially renders its account useless.

Google has been pretty prudish about the glasses, probably because they already creep some people out. The company has even disallowed advertising from apps for the device. Knowing Google, advertising will be back. And knowing the way people use tech, so will porn. Pornography has been credited with the adoption of everything from the VCR and Polaroid cameras to Android and Tumblr. It has become a cliché, but it’s also true. When you create technologies for media consumption, people tend to use them to consume the most seductive types of content. Porn ended up being a good way to sell VCRs because the devices offered a more private, convenient way to watch porn. It’s not some magical formula applicable only to porn—football has also been a useful tool to drive adoption of new television technologies.

For pornography, “the attractions are greater perceived privacy and easier access,” writes Jonathan Coopersmith, a technology historian at Texas A&M, who argues that porn played a major role in pushing the development of everything from the printing press to the Minitel. “Another pattern is the elimination of the distinctions between producers, distributors and consumers as instant photography, video, and computers have permitted a ‘democratisation’ of pornography.”

Restricting racy uses of Glass indefinitely would require Google to exert much stricter control over the device than it has done with anything else. First off, it would have to monitor every photograph or video created by users and immediately delete what it found unsavory. Prohibiting apps with pornographic content would be easier, but Google hasn’t kept MiKandi from creating an adult app store for Android devices. Even Apple (AAPL), which has a famously tight grip on content on its mobile devices, hasn’t seen the value in trying to block porn companies from making Web apps that run on Web browsers in the devices.

Jesse Adams, McEwan’s co-founder at MiKandi, sounded like any tech startup type when he describes the way that wearable computing such as Glass would affect his industry. “I think this is an important market,” he says. “They are at the forefront of the connected-device world.”

Sooner or later, he’ll get his chance in that market.

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

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