Tech Execs, T-Shirt Wearers at SXSWi Ask: Are We in a Post-Privacy World?

Panelist Alison Lewis' proprietary, programmable t-shirt being displayed in Austin, TX during SXSW Interactive.

Wearable tech is turning out to be one of the buzziest topics to come out of SXSWi (as predicted by festival director Hugh Forrest in a chat last week), and the debate around it isn't safe from the other most-talked about topic at the fest -- privacy (something Google's Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen addressed in their kickoff keynote). The issue of privacy and wearables is of considerable worry to many people, representing on a fundamental level just how fundamentally inescapable technology has become in the 21st century. You know when someone is pointing their phone at you, but their Glass is always watching. But what about their t-shirt?

These issues were danced around during a panel on wearable tech in Austin, held in a ballroom with exactly two visible Google Glass wearers. (If personal experience is any indication, we're still a few years away from not thinking they look weird.)

"We're always looking a privacy," said Gilly Segal, a counsel on advertising & intellectual property for Atlanta-based 22squared. "We're in an ocean we know, but an charted portion of it. The issues wearable tech raises is vast."

"Beyond the legal framework, [there's the] the social framework. There's an asymmetry in the relationship, when someone has [this] tech and you don't," Chick Foxgrover, chief digital officer at 4A's, pointed out.

The issues of wearable tech in the music space are less fraught. Last November, Google Glass added commands to control your music with voice commands as well as to query Shazam hands-free. Not exactly of much concern to anyone (outside of those with a rabid hatred of the movie "Her," perhaps). But the implications of surreptitiously recording a concert performance or conversation with a celebrity could be.

"I get asked if we're in a post privacy world," said Segal. "My answer is no -- not yet. There's a real opportunity for the industry to think critically about the data we're collecting and to establish trust with the consumer. There are challenges when we have tech like google glass. How do you notify? From this distance its hard to tell whether anyone is filming me right now [with Google Glass]."