Are there real privacy concerns over Google Glass? Congress now looking into the situation

by: Andrew GrushMay 17, 2013

Google Glass

Change isn’t always easy, sometimes it can even be scary. While some of us love new inventions and tech progress (raises hand!), others are a bit more cautious about what change might bring. That’s why campaigns like “Stop the Cyborgs” have surfaced recently, with a mission of bringing awareness of potential Google Glass privacy concerns. We’ve even heard about at least one Seattle bar that has already banned the tech ahead of its commercial launch.

So what’s the deal? Is there really cause for concern here? The problem is that Google Glass is a very new and different technology. People aren’t for sure what implications it might have on society and privacy. That’s why eight members of Congress have decided to take action, sending a letter to Google asking about privacy concerns and Google’s plans with Glass.

The inquiry came from lawmakers from the bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, and asks several questions about privacy both regarding the user and those that might come into contact with the user. For example, congress wonders whether or not Google collects device-specific information from Glass and how else it might be used to track its users.

More importantly, Congress wants to know how Google will handle recording and picture taking, and if someone (or even some buildings/landmarks) can opt out of facial recognition technology, if it becomes a feature of Glass.

The letter also points out Google’s past privacy concerns, and possible concerns with data tracking (methinks Congress has been watching too many Scroogled ads). The letter requests a response by Friday, June 14th, and can be read in full here.

It remains unseen if Google will respond to the letter directly or not, but it is worth noting that at Thursday’s I/O fireside chat with developers, the team did take some time to address possible privacy concerns regarding Glass.


Google addresses possible privacy issues with Glass at I/O

“Privacy was top of mind as we designed the product,” said Steve Lee, Glass’ product director. “You’ll know when someone with Glass is paying attention to you,” insists Lee. “If you’re looking at Glass, you’re looking up.”

As Lee points out, someone will pretty much need to be staring at you to record you.

“If you walk into a restroom and someone’s just looking at you — I don’t know about you but I’m getting the hell out of there.”

While that is mostly true, you could also position yourself perfectly for a second, start recording and then look in the other direction. Honestly though, you can kind of do the same thing with your phone. You can easily start recording but not hold the phone all the way up, making it look like you are simply checking an email, browsing the net or doing something else (though admittedly it might look a bit more suspicious with a phone).

Google seems to understand that there will be skeptics for the technology, and looks to be working hard to address these concerns as best as possible, which is all we can really ask for. “We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues. Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology,” Lee concludes.

Personally, I understand that people fear the unknown, but this is just another new mobile device. Used in the wrong hands, yes it can certainly be used for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, so can a smartphone, a camera, a computer or just about anything.

Google Glass will take time to get used to, and this is likely far from the last we’ll hear about anti-Glass initiatives and privacy concerns. What do you think of Google Glass, does it pose real privacy concerns or are certain groups just blowing things out of proportion?

  • Will Stewart

    Wouldn’t people buying a Google Glass (an expensive, new piece of tech) be more aware of the privacy risks associated with it compared to people buying an Android phone?

    • lil bit

      It didn’t occur to you that other peoples privacy is what is at risk here? Those who did not click ok on the popup saying “i understand the risk and want to proceed”. The gg user is the potential violator, not the potential victim.

      • Will Stewart

        I understand what you mean. But most of the information/violation from GG is already possible by a smartphone. I think there should be infrastructure built to disable GG in certain public & private places.

  • Jeff Savage

    I think people just need to give up on trying to fight it. Technology has already gotten so advanced that we would never give it up.

  • john bee

    I believe it is a concern and you are right Jeff, it has advanced rapidly and part of the problem with tech these days is that they’re too busy rushing to implement these new technologies instead of integrating it and thinking things through. Not even a notification light when recording.. This technological privacy, or at least notification that you are being recorded needs to be addressed, prior. cool toys or not. now that drones are more affordable theres already people hovering drones around their neighbors houses doing ‘research’, how long before those creepies are recording you and your family unknowingly. wheres the line, why do so many reject that there should be one?
    ..and navigation by car? yeah theres a safe idea..

    • RaptorOO7

      This is the developers edition, it wasn’t meant to be nor is it going to be the consumer product. It was a way to get devs involved, interested and thinking about what they can do.

      Yes there should be a light that indicates its recording that’s common place, but people also find ways to disable the red light on their camcorders and turn off the photo taking sound on the smartphones, I wonder why they do that.

  • RaptorOO7

    Lets see I could take pictures with a camera phone years ago when the became popular, then came the smartphone revolution and video uploading services. We live our lives in public, what you do is public. If you don’t want anyone to see you then stay home and hide in the closet..

    Do I want to be filmed no, but what am I going to do sue everyone with a camera, phone, or google glass type device. Google Glass is the first step in what will be ubiquitous technology that goes everywhere and does everything.

    • Testutama

      Actually some countries have already made it illegal to secretly film or take photos of someone. This is due to the extreme amount of incidents related to stalking, bullying and harassment that have occurred since the advent of the camera phone. Technology does not always lead to improvements in people’s lives and the massive invasion of privacy these kinds of devices cause is a big issue. Camera phones are already a big issue but at the very least it is easy to spot when someone is recording with one; devices like google glass will definitely make this issue worse.

      Studies have shown that employees who are constantly in fear of being monitored by their supervisors (via microphones) suffer much higher levels of stress which can in many cases lead to breakdown or suicide. The fact is people need their privacy; just because someone walks outside their house doesn’t remove their right to speak or act without fear of being humiliated on a worldwide scale. Technology is going to keep progressing so it is essential that countries keep their anti-stalking laws up-to-date (with strict punishments attached) so as to minimise the problem. Perhaps going back to the days of enforcing pixilated videos/photos when someone has not given their permission would help alleviate the issue.

      • Lil bit

        Great post.

        Additionally, I wonder what people will think about gg users, those little things our sub consciousness keep popping up, what will it say? PeepingTom, pervert, Nosy, stalker, wannabe. And on the more conscious level, “Feeling KGB?” Or the ironic “wow you are so high-tech… Freak!”. Glass users will feel stupid, and they should. Safe to say that gg users will occasionally be physically attacked by people who feel violated by their presence, wearing gg in public is gonna annoy and provoke lots of people.

      • inks

        good thing.
        this will force someone to invent invisibility cloak.
        if you’re invisible then people can’t take film or photo of you..

  • williamworlde

    What I’d like to see is a declaration of gifts Android Authority receives from Google and other Android hardware and software companies, if any. I’m saying this only half-jokingly.

    The writer is obviously biased towards the product and perhaps the company, but I agree that technology will progress oftentimes in controversial forms. Bearing that in mind, I also expect the lawmakers that we the citizens have elected to keep our best interests in mind, do all they possibly can to protect us. It is also better they do so before rather than after the fact.

    I am certainly glad I was part of the many teams prepping for Y2K. Oh, nothing happened you say; that’s very likely due to the many teams prepping for Y2K!

    I have locked down my Android device (a “pure” one at that too as it’s a GNex!; I am really Google-screwed!) as best I possibly can, but I too like the conveniences of the “Google Nows” technologies. I know that I’m sacrificing my privacy for these conveniences, but it is MY (controlled?!) choice. I have none with an omnipotent, omnipresent Google Glass and am depending on the lawmakers to protect me from being secretly filmed doing something private or even stupid. AMERICAN-COURTS-CRAZYASS-SUING-SYSTEM, here I come!

  • Alan Shearer

    looking forward to glass voyeur videos.

    But on a serious note, we all know it will be about the homemade amateur porn.

    Seriously seriously, when you walk out your front door, you leave your house and privacy behind.

  • “Personally, I understand that people fear the unknown”

    LOL what a condescending tone, people actually KNOW what it’s like to be under surveillance in public (I count internet as public place), and some don’t like it. There are many protests about this:
    – Great firewall of China? I thought you people hate surveillance?

    With Glass, it’s not only the government kept an eye of you. It’s both people and the government. At least the government have code of conducts on how to handle your data, but people? It’s too random!

    Worst case scenario, there will be more kangaroo court incidents and internet vigilance.

    Hypothetical Case:
    – A ran over B’s dog in a crowded place.
    – A ran away.
    – 50 people recorded what happened and shared the video on youtube, overblowing the incidents.
    – Youtube anons found that A’s car plate is visible.
    – Youtube anons track A’s identity from his/her car plate.
    – Kangaroo court and public shaming. Phone terrors, Rape threats, Stone-throwing at A’s windows, etc.
    – B reported A to the police.
    – A got both legal judgments and illegal, unfair judgments. While A is a jerk, he/she does not deserve the kangaroo court.
    – People learn from A’s case and… stay at home or learn to be incognito in public (western burqas maybe hahahahahha)? Since every deviant acts, no matter how small it is (having bad taste in fashion, for example), will be shared by lots of people to the Internet.

    The worst case sure sounds like dystopian future :))