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The ethics of using a 360-degree camera

At this point, we're all used to seeing folks wandering around in public. Tourists capturing photos, friends capturing a selfie after a night at the bar, and the occasional shame photo taken by someone who things the sleeping guy drooling to himself on the train are just a couple of reasons you might see a camera in public today. There are hundreds of other reasons, and for the most part it's okay. As long as everyone knows you're taking a photo in public, it's usually not a problem.

This brings up an interesting ethical question or two about using 360-degree cameras, but as is often the case with new technology the answers seem to be all about communication.

360fly

Taking a photo with a camera or smartphone usually required a deliberate or obvious motion on the part of the photographer. You see someone hold out their arms or hold the screen up to their face, you hear the shutter, there's usually some clear indicators that a photo either was taken or is about to be taken. There are always exceptions to this, obviously, and anyone who wants to take a secret photo can certainly acquire the materials to do so fairly easily, but with 360-degree cameras it's noticeably less obvious. In fact, sometimes it's downright impossible to know a 360-degree photo or video is being captured.

As an early adopter of an interesting new technology, the way you use these cameras matters.

In some cases, taking a photo with a 360-degree camera means holding up an oddly-shaped piece of technology and pressing a button. Even compact 360-degree cameras like the LG 360 CAM and Ricoh Theta S (opens in new tab) stand out when you hold them up, but there are several other ways to capture photos with this tech. These are Bluetooth-connected cameras, which means the shutter can be triggered remotely, and doing so captures everything around the camera. With a decent Bluetooth connection, you can be far enough away that you aren't even in the shot when taking the photo. This means you can capture amazing outdoor shots, but it also means you can capture plenty of things you either wouldn't be able to or wouldn't dare attempt with a traditional camera.

Set your 360-degree camera down on the table at lunch or in your favorite coffee spot, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who even knows what it is you just set down, much less be aware that you're recording. The 360 degree cameras that do have a capture LED only put them on one side of a spherical camera, and usually not bright enough to notice from a distance. People who want to take inappropriate photos will always have the means, but with a 360-degree camera there's a much greater chance you'd capture something you wouldn't normally capture just because the folks around you aren't necessarily aware you're taking the photo or recording the video.

The potential for an understandably uncomfortable environment can't be ignored, but as the person taking the photos it's easy enough to avoid.

  • Avoid using your 360-degree cameras in crowded indoor places. That 360-degree coffee house shot looks awesome, but not at the cost of everyone else's comfort.
  • Use a tripod, monopod, or selfie stick whenever you can. Not only will your photos turn out better than if you just place your 360-degree camera on the ground, but it helps point out that you're taking a photo.
  • Be prepared to explain what you're doing. If someone asks about your hardware, have a conversation about it. Chances are it'll end in that person being fascinated by the way the resulting picture looks on your phone.
  • Look before you publish. Recording video or timelapse is incredible through a 360-degree camera, but all it takes is one accidental upskirt glance or clip of a child to cause concern. Watch what you record, and edit if you capture something you didn't intend to.

As more 360-degree cameras are available to consumer the chances for miscommunication and accidental captures will drop off, but as an early adopter of an interesting new technology the way you use these cameras matters. Pay attention, check your results, and have a bunch of fun with these new cameras!

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

28 Comments
  • Technically it's legal to shoot anything you can see from public land, like the sidewalk. Ethically is a different story.
  • That's true in the U.S. with some caveats around military bases, etc. Not necessarily true in other parts of the world.
  • Yeah I assumed Android Central is a US based site so most readers here are from the US.
  • I would imagine most readers are in the US but there's still a lot of us who aren't so ScottMGS's point was definitely worth making Posted on LG V10 via the Android Central App
  • It's technically true you can take photos and record videos in most public places, as other people do not have a "reasonable expectation of privacy", at least in the US. HOWEVER, sound recording, even accompanied by video, can be illegal in many places in many circumstances, due to old wiretap/eavesdropping laws that exist in certain states/localities in the US. Also, recording/capturing a photo/video and publishing that photo/video are two different things, and profiting from the recording is a whole other ball game, so it's still best to do research on your area.
  • Waiting for the 360 deg 'Selfie Stick' to be released.
  • Google blurred the faces on photospheres for me. Doing it myself is going to be a PITA. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't think 360 will bode well in my city of Montreal, where we have to have permission to publish any photo of a stranger when it's not a public event.
  • I'm going to Montreal this summer for the first time, thanks for the heads up!
  • If you plan on doing any driving, stay well back from the car in front. The grand majority of cars there have very few - if no - brake lights! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Out of curiosity is walking down the street a "public event"? Or standing in line at the grocery store?
  • Very interesting. I would hate to have an image of me published anywhere. All around cctv is prevalent anyway, but this is on a different scale and your rights of anonymity are threatened.
    360's and drones must task each areas legal system.
    The other problem as always is false or incorrect assessment of who exactly was in the frame and what they were really doing.
  • What is this "right of anonymity" when you're walking around in public?
  • Never mind me. I don't know what I'm saying. You carry on.
  • When I went to school we weren't allowed to have a phone with a camera, now everywhere I go people are snapping photos and recording video. I've already been forced to accept that there are probably countless photos of me out there. How many times was I in the background of a photo someone else took or some ones selfie? Than almost anywhere public there are security cameras of some sort too. Basically I don't think 360 video should make anyone feel anymore uncomfortable than they did before. Cameras are already everywhere, and our governments read and monitor our communications, privacy is a thing of the past unfortunately. Posted via the Android Central App
  • This used to be the rule in courthouses in Los Angeles-- no recording devices of any kind allowed in the court. That had to get amended to "no USING recording devices in court" when everyone's phone had them by default.
  • Meh...
  • what do you do here? Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • He types "meh". Seems legit enough for me. Posted via the Android Central App
  • As long as you are walking around down my street you have no right to privacy. Almost every house has security cameras that capture everyone and everything being done outside of a house. Our police department even encourages home owners to install systems and be available if the police want to view the video. So if I take a pic using a 360 camera people can call the police if they want but i can't imagine it will matter. If I am out in public take all the pics you want---go ahead make me famous! Posted via Android Central App
  • You say that now, but what will you say when you go all Kanye on a photographer? Posted via the Android Central App
  • You're in public, expect to be seen. Good advice about reviewing before posting though.
  • At the hi-rise where my Wife works. They have a beautiful glass roof over the lobby that looks cool from inside. I thought it would make a nice wallpaper and so snapped a picture of it with my phone. Within seconds a security guard approached, asked if I'd taken a picture, and demanded I delete it, citing security reasons. I was about to deny taking a picture and ask where the no photos sign was but at the last second changed my mind. I figured the guard must have been very close by when I took the pic and for sure she saw me. I said no problem, showed her the pic and deleted it in front of her. She then asked me if I had other pictures and acted like she wanted to see my gallery. She was acting very pushy for a rent a cop. I locked my phone, pocketed it, and firmly stated there was one pic, you saw me delete it. Before she could say anything I told her my phone and it's contents were my private property, the device was locked, was off limits without a search warrant, and was I being detained? She said to move along. I never did see a no photo sign and I think that for whatever reason she just wanted to hassle me in front of my Wife and Daughter while we were on our way to the theater inside the building. You just never know what's going to happen when you click that shutter. *"powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you"*
  • Of course the Photos app backed up your photo despite you deleting it, amirite? Also, Paullette Blart can't detain the taco bell in her bowel, let alone you. Next time earmuff your kid and tell her to kindly **** off. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I had a security guard tell me I couldn't take pictures in an ordinary shopping mall. I was just taking pictures of my daughter. Ridiculous.
  • It's different for me as a freelance Stringer the local newspaper. You have to get names if it's less than 3 people in a group. If it's larger than 3 people generally do not need permission for the photograph to be published in professional publication. Posted via the Android Central App
  • In one of Casey Neistat's vlog, he placed a samsung 360 camera on the ground while at the oscars red carpet. It was so close to an upskirt shot.
  • Yet another stupid article. If you're in public, in the US, anyone can take your picture and post it online. They don't need your permission. If there are illegal shots with nudity or anything else like that, then that's on the photographer. How is a 360 camera any different than walking around with a video camera recording everything, or turning in a circle with rapid-fire photos? This has nothing to do with ethics. All about the law.