Google Spreads Its Wings: Will Flutter Soar or Burn?

On: November 18, 2013
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About Wessel Schillemans


Flutter. The name implies flight, but it is actually described as to wave or fly rapidly in an irregular manner or to flap the wings without flying. However, a third way to describe flutter is that it’s the name of a company that Google recently bought up to acquire their one and only product: their gesture detection and recognition program that works through a standard webcam.

The premise of the program is simple. Using Flutter, you are able to use hand gestures and movements in front of any regular webcam to control what happens on your screen. It’s basically a form of ‘swiping’. The program is mainly compatible with media streaming services such as Spotify, QuickTime, iTunes, VLC Media Player and most recently Google’s Chrome internet browser. With the recent spike of interest in motion detection software (Microsoft’s Kinect, Leap Motion, Samsung’s Air Gesture) it is not surprising Google wanted in on this. The integration of Flutter into a promising product such as Google Glass is not too big of a leap to make in the near future.

At first, the acquisition seems like a really smart move. Flutter’s usage gets positive responses by the audience – as you can see in the video review above. It’s also a thoughtful way of collecting data which can be used for all kinds of purposes. For instance, Google can learn about how we want to use media players and use this information to successfully launch its own media player, or to make Google TV a bigger player on the market. But it’s because of this smart way of collecting data that the acquisition also raises some serious questions, based on privacy concerns.

Even though the Flutter website states there is no concern to fear for the breaching of one’s privacy (Flutter’s whole privacy policy can be reviewed here), it is still a program and device connected to the Internet. Flutter’s privacy policy was also set up way before Google bought them. It’s not a secret that big companies such as Google are interested in their users data. Because of that, the question might not be if, but when will Google make it mandatory to send users data in exchange for free usage with, for example, Google Glass? Google’s timing of buying a technology company such as Flutter simply isn’t that good. They probably are one of the world’s biggest data collectors already. Skeptics will claim that soon, Google doesn’t only know what we are doing all day long; they will know exactly what we all look like all day long, too.

Sony’s patent on various forms of tracking

These privacy concerns don’t come up out of nowhere. Previously, companies such as Microsoft and Sony have been criticized about such concerns. Originally, Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox One, scheduled to release later this year, was supposed to be always on(line) in order to play whenever you want to. After huge protests, Microsoft decided that this wouldn’t be mandatory after all [1]. Last year, Sony had some PR-troubles because of several pending patents. These patents were about the tracking of users through their DNA (we’re not kidding), fingerprints, facial expressions, eyes and speech [2]. With the reveal of the NSA’s tracking of various institutions and people, the concerns for privacy and the protection of personal information have received a renewed boost in interest. Since Google is one of the major players in the new media scene, it’s not strange to conclude that critics will follow this acquisition of Flutter closely and jump at the chance to voice concerns.

So the question remains, will Flutter (still) allow its users to use motions to command their media, to flutter freely through their movies and music? Maybe one of the original definitions of the verb ‘flutter’ comes close after all: to flap the wings without flying. The promise of flying could be seen as an allegory for movement, progress and ways in which new media is able to find new ways of control. However, flapping one’s wings without flying seems to indicate futility, putting in energy with little progress. The future might show us which one will end up being correct. Will it slowly be reshaped towards motion controlled interfaces, as for instance in films like Minority Report[3] Or will we simply flap without progress, tracked by big companies such as Google and, like Icarus, only notice but too late that in our excitement for the new we are no longer soaring but our wings are on fire?

[1] Plafke, James. “Another Xbox 180: Always-on Kinect no longer mandatory”. Ed. San Cangeloso, Matthew Humphries and James Plafke. 2012. 6 October 2013. <>
[2] Moss, Sebastian. “SCE Patents Plans to Track Your DNA, Fingerprints, Voice Pattern, Iris, Face”. Ed. Sebastion Moss and Anthony Severino. 2012. 6 October 2013.    <>
[3] Minority Report. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2002.

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