I pride myself in being an almost completely mobile blogger. While this isn’t so much of a big thing these days when smartphones are in the hands of everybody and their grandmother, when I began it was cutting edge. Mobile blogs were usually full of acronyms and so-called text speak, noramlly supported by a single meme style image. I wasn’t happy with that and approached my own writing with a sense of the content and formatting needed to be successful. I was a revelation in a space normally occupied by those who have nothing to say. To be honest mobile blogs haven’t advanced much further than those badly spelled ones over the years, but I’ve made it my business to make sure any advance is taken advantage of so that my own writing stands out from the crowd a little more.
The reason I’m telling you this is not to toot my own proverbial horn (okay, maybe a little), but to point out that I was one of the first. However I was far from the very first mobile blogger. That honour belongs to Steve Mann. Steve invented a device in 1994 that recorded images, video and audio in his everyday life and was able to stream it straight to his own website. Again this may not sound like much in this day and age, but in 1994 mobile phones still didn’t have colour screens, the networks weren’t capable of data transfer that could be measured in anything faster than bytes per second, and live streaming was unknown. That someone could not only invent a system that allowed such technology, but make it wearable, was unthinkable. And, the internet being what it was in the 90’s, most of us didn’t know enough about it to think about it either.
In the 1980’s he first came up with his wearable video camera which is an absolutely terrifying device to behold (just look right). I’d go so far as to call him an influence on the Borg in Star Trek with that device. It’s bulky and wasn’t capable of data transfer at all. Since those early days Mann has remained an active force in the field of wearable computing, refining his devices further, adding in the ability to stream content to his sites (which I still call genius even now when it’s so commonplace), building augmented reality systems into them so that his own life is enhanced and publishing over two hundred papers on his findings. He is the creator of the idea of Humanistic Intelligence and currently a part of the Anonequity project which aims to study the way that the increasing rise of implanted smart devices impact privacy and the ways existing outdated laws have to flow around such individuals. In short, Steve Mann is pretty much a genius and one of the few people I admire for their work.
It’s a shame then that his name rarely hits the headlines for his contributions to the world and only when such contributions or research are abused by others. In 2002 Mann hit the headlines when airport security tried to remove his wearable camera system. By this time Mann had started wearing the devices all day every day to help look into the challenges faced by someone with implants like these. The device was screwed into his head and the security officers tried to rip it off him, causing no small amount of distress as well as $50,000 worth of damage to the unique device. It was that incident that caused Mann to start bringing documentation with him from his doctor explaining that the device could not be removed. It wasn’t enough.
Earlier this week Mann hit the headlines again as he claimed he had been forcibly ejected from a Parisien McDonalds for wearing his latest headset. As you can see from the comparison with Google Glass above, the device is quite small and resembles a steampunk pair of glasses. This particular device is used to help research what help people of partial vision need and doesn’t record pictures for streaming anywhere, instead using artificial reality overlays to help people make sense of images. The camera part takes in images then the computer processes them and overlays relevant information such as translations of words for example. These images are constantly overwritten while the device is in use and no part of its design is meant to capture and hold onto images in any way. This is explained in Mann’s medical documentation and, as he and his family were out and about in Paris and visiting a few museums, he brought this documentation with him to explain to any of the premises that he wasn’t a forger out for the perfect copy. Nobody even asked for the documentation. Museums housing priceless works of art were happy to have him walk around wearing his augmented reality headset. No-one even questioned him about whether he could be recording images with it. It was only when he and his family got to McDonalds at the end of their day out that he had trouble.
Mann claims that the employee at the counter asked about his headset when he made his order and that, after showing his documentation and explaining what it was for, that he was allowed to order and pay as normal. It was as he sat down to eat with his family that three members of staff approached and demanded to know why he was recording in their restaurant. He explained again that he wasn’t and showed them the documentation from his doctor. The three passed it amongst themselves and grunted a little, before crumpling the letter and tearing it up in front of the family. They then attempted to tear the device from his head (remember this is screwed into his skull) and physically ejected him from the restaurant when they couldn’t remove it.
When this story came to light McDonalds immediately released a statement saying they were investigating the matter, followed swiftly by the results of that investigation. It turns out that not only did the staff members involved say that they had no idea what Mann was talking about, but the entire staff of the store from cashiers to cooks and security staff claimed it hadn’t even happened. Either the whole store had banded together to help out three bullies or the researcher was lying, perhaps to push his name into the spotlight surrounding the recent Google Glass announcement some comment writers on news sites seemed to think.
“We share the concern regarding Dr. Mann’s account of his July 1 visit to a McDonald’s in Paris. McDonald’s France was made aware of Dr. Mann’s complaints on July 16, and immediately launched a thorough investigation. The McDonald’s France team has contacted Dr. Mann and is awaiting further information from him.
In addition, several staff members involved have been interviewed individually, and all independently and consistently expressed that their interaction with Dr. Mann was polite and did not involve a physical altercation. Our crew members and restaurant security staff have informed us that they did not damage any of Mr. Mann’s personal possessions.
While we continue to learn more about the situation, we are hearing from customers who have questions about what happened. We urge everyone not to speculate or jump to conclusions before all the facts are known. Our goal is to provide a welcoming environment and stellar service to McDonald’s customers around the world.”
Remember when I said that Mann’s device doesn’t record and only takes current images to process before overwriting them? Well that is true, except when the device is damaged in a very specific way which makes the device incapable of operation meaning it can’t overwrite the images already in its memory. The creator of the device found a way and found that the device had indeed been damaged to the point that images weren’t being overwritten any more. As such the last processed images in the device were still available in its memory and clearly showed that Mann was telling the truth about his ordeal.
In the first image we can clearly see one member of staff pawing at Mann, pulling at his Eyetap glasses and trying to remove them. In the second we see Mann’s documentation being destroyed by the staff members. Several other images taken from the device show Mann being ejected from the premises and the staff members deliberately turning over their identification badges and holding them that way so their details couldn’t be seen by anyone. All of these things are recorded in images yet somehow the entire staff at the branch in question didn’t see a thing and said as much during the investigation that McDonalds held.
This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. Companies all around the world have bad members of staff who really should be sacked as soon as something like this happens. Unfortunately the cost of training new employees combines with the slight loss in profit that the companies would experience during such training to make their investigations nothing more than a cursory look into the staff members side of things. If the staff members claim nothing happened then they’re taken at their word. It’s cost-effective that way and makes it harder for the consumer to get their money back. Only those who really push are guaranteed their money back these days and even they usually have to wait at least three months and sometimes as long as two years (unsurprisingly this was also an incident at McDonalds that was denied by the company).
The company would either deny that they act in this manner or say they’re protecting themselves from those who would make frivolous claims in an effort to get free things. Having grown up with a friend who mastered in the “And when I got to the car I noticed this was missing” school of scam, I can understand that somewhat. However, this is obviously a legitimate claim as proven by the images taken. At the very least any investigation into a supposed physical assault of a customer should have involved looking at the security footage of the incident. There is no way that this should have been left as the word of the customer against that of the staff, especially when this is not the first time staff at that particular restaurant have been accused of manhandling customers who they thought were taking photographs.
This reeks of a cover-up. Either the entirety of the staff at the restaurant need to be sacked for their complicity in the covering-up of this sad event or the person who performed the investigation needs to be replaced with someone capable of performing their job.