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

Google Glass is a very different kind of mobile product, one that seems to bring up potential concerns over privacy. Now Congress has decided to get involved, asking Google to address potential concerns.
May 17, 2013
Google Glass
The Google Glass kiosk at I/O 2013

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?