Thursday, July 19, 2012

McDonald's denies 'human cyborg' assault claims, but photo evidence seems damning

Steve Mann has called himself "the world's first cyborg" in Canadian popular press due to his wearing digital glasses which are, in fact, not "Google Project Glass" type glasses, but actual "prescription eyewear." He has accused employees at a Paris McDonald's restaurant of assaulting him for violating the store's no photos policy, and now McDonald's has responded, denying everything.

It's an unusual tale, but Mann originally created the Eye Glass (or EyeTap) eyewear technology, as well as the computer vision algorithms. It's designed to take the place of traditional eyewear, and he even carries a doctor's note indicating that he needs to wear the permanently-attached device (which requires special tools to be removed from Mann's head).

However, this Paris McDonald's apparently has a no photos policy (a corporate McDonald's rep is reported to have said that franchisees can set their own such policies). Apparently, employees believed that the Eye Glass device could be used to take pictures.

However, the device, while it does capture images in real-time, does not save them by default.

While one employee accepted his doctor's note, another ripped up the note and supporting documentation, and tried to pull the Eye Glass off Mann's head. In doing so he damaged the device, such that the images Mann posted to his blog were saved - as opposed to being overwritten by newer ones.

The images seem damning, including one that seems to show an employee reaching toward or perhaps grabbing at the Eye Glass. While that image is perhaps hard to interpret, the image of an employee ripping up Mann's doctor's note is clear.

The incident occurred earlier this month, but McDonald's statement was just issued yesterday. The company said:

"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."

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As Mann said, he does "not have the resources to take on a branch of a large multi-national corporation." He doesn't want anything more than having his device repaired - and perhaps that the company apologizes by agreeing to fund vision research.

Considering that soon - perhaps sooner than we think - wearable technology such as Eye Glass or Google's Project Glass may become the norm, rather than the exception, companies should begin addressing their policies regarding these technologies now, rather than in the future.  While Mann said he doesn't have the resources to fight McDonald's, the "court of public opinion" may do his fighting for him.

In the early 70's, McDonald's used the slogan "you deserve a break today." Perhaps a new one should be created, saying "you deserve to have something broken today."

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