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.


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 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 Holly

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