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Google Glass: big brother or best friend?

Google Glass: big brother or best friend? Paul Twite

Google Glass has been making headlines since the announcement of its release in 2012. The launch of its Explorer Program – which allows consumers to purchase and test the device ahead of a wider launch – has caused the excitement and controversy surrounding the groundbreaking wearable to escalate.

However, a recent survey by Toluna, with a representative sample of 1,000 adults in the UK – as well as 1,000 adults in the US – outlines that consumer attitudes to Google Glass in the UK have been somewhat mixed, with a lack of knowledge about the device and concerns over safety and privacy clouding enthusiasm over its potential benefits. 

Google Glass is a wearable device that allows users to do almost everything they could do on a smartphone. Users can browse the web, use social media, send messages, make calls, take photos or videos, use apps, and interact with navigation systems, without ever needing to pick up a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Glass is operated using swiping motions and voice controls, and in the future the device is likely to feature augmented reality functions where the user can access and overlay information about whatever they are looking at simply by taking a photo.   

Our research revealed that a quarter of UK consumers (25%) have never heard of wearable technology (compared with just 17% in the US) and that only 7% claim to know a great deal about it. When asked whether they would consider purchasing Google Glass for the current price of £1,000, 73% stated that they would not. The consumer group most interested in Google Glass is men under the age of 34, with respondents in this demographic most likely to know something about wearable technology, as well as demonstrating a higher purchase propensity for Glass. This trend also applies to consumers with an annual income exceeding £50,000.

The key factors relating to Google Glass purchase consideration in the UK were uncovered in our survey. Of the consumers who say they would consider buying the device, the majority cite its functional benefits – such as immediacy of web access and the possibility of real-time photography and journaling of experiences – as persuasive factors. There is also a considerable aspirational influence, with a significant number reporting that they would buy Glass because they like to own the latest technology. 

So if these are the positive features that would convince consumers to buy Google Glass, what are the negative issues that might prevent them? Safety is cited as a major factor, with a third (33%) of UK consumers reporting they definitely have safety concerns around the use of the technology. Safety fears range from the possible distraction of pedestrians and drivers while on the road, to an increased vulnerability to mugging when wearing the device. A fear of mugging seems to be a specifically British phenomenon, as 46% of UK consumers cite this as a concern compared with just 34% in the US.

Privacy is another area of anxiety and once again a third (33%) of UK consumers have definite concerns in this area. Equal levels of concern are expressed about the possibility of hackers accessing data, the potential of being photographed or videoed without realising it, and the likelihood of private actions becoming public more easily (35%, 34% and 34% respectively). In addition, 35% of consumers state that they value their privacy and dislike any technology that could compromise it, and 29% are worried about their location being identified through using Google Glass.         

Younger males – the group most interested in purchasing Google Glass – are the least likely to be worried about either safety or privacy, with females over the age of 35 most likely to voice concerns about both elements. Consumers with an annual income over £50,000 are also very likely to express concerns over both safety and privacy.

Consumers in the US expressed higher levels of concern about both the safety (38%) and privacy (39%) of Google Glass when asked the same questions.      
Google Glass is still in its developmental stages and a lack of knowledge about its functionality, as well as media hype around safety and privacy issues, have created a slightly sceptical UK consumer. However, there is a clear interest in Google Glass among younger males, who are more likely to consider purchasing the device and are least worried about its use.

As Google tackles safety and privacy concerns and consumers become more aware of the potential benefits of Glass – immediate web access, real-time experience capture, hands-free social interaction, and augmented reality – UK consumers will start to decide whether the device is the next Big Brother or their best friend. 

Paul is responsible for the strategic growth of Toluna’s business in the UK. He moved from his role as sales director for UK & Ireland in April 2013, following a sustained increase in the number and depth of client relationships Toluna...

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