I Spy With My Digital Eye

Feel your privacy is being threatened now? Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin reveals a forthcoming device that will allow someone to record anything you do retroactively. Wait until you see it. That is, if it doesn't see you first.

It looks geeky. It costs plenty. And if you spend about $400 for it this fall, it will capture video reminiscent of early webcams. However, it could well be a harbinger of a class of devices that could forever change human behavior for those recording and those being recorded.

The marriage between a small eyeglass-mounted camera and belt-mounted battery and storage unit, the Deja View Camwear evokes one of those clumsy Xybernaut wearable PCs today, yet it continues the tradition of tiny cameras that are capable of stealthy monitoring. Spying concerns have already become an issue with camera phones. Sensitive locales like corporate headquarters and research labs have or are considering bans on phones and handhelds with integrated cameras, and allegedly some health clubs have become increasingly concerned about the privacy of their locker rooms in light of such pervasive imaging.

Integrated cameras, such as those on the forthcoming Handspring Treo 600, will certainly be more inconspicuous than the Deja View for some time, but the Deja View has a special talent. With most video devices, you must decide to capture video of something before it happens. With the Deja View, though, one can decide to save a 30-second clip after it occurs. The device constantly caches what the camera sees and can save hundreds of low-resolution clips on a tiny SD card. Theres currently no way to view what youve recorded until you get back to your PC, but thats on the to-do list.

The ramifications of the Deja View and its progeny are deep for a society that is already regularly scanned by untold (and unseen) security cameras. I havent done the sociological math, but how many people will need to own one of these before much of the populations lives is routinely being bootlegged more than a Phish concert? Think of it as the first step toward TiVo for real life. Did you catch your spouse promising to take out the trash? Preserve it forever in flash memory.

There are any number of applications for Deja Views technology beyond wrecking marriages, though. While company representatives can manage a straight face saying they expect this to be a consumer product, they note that doctors are using the device to protect against malpractice suits. Playing the mercenary, they also note that they are looking at in-vehicle cameras that could record what happens in the seconds before an auto accident. This could evolve the black box to one thats in living color, at least at 320 x 240 resolution.

Have you ever wished for a photographic memory? Soon, devices like the Deja View will add audio. As their cameras shrink, their cables vanish, and their flash memory gives way to tiny hard disks, future versions may be able to provide a perfect archive of anything significant you see and every conversation you have. Mix in a 3G network and you could practically recreate Being John Malkovich.

Or 1984.

Are you worried that pervasive tiny digital cameras may capture your least proud moments digitally? E-mail me.

Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin is a senior analyst at eMarketer. He has researched wireless communications since 1994 and has been covering technology since 1989.

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