Eight Congressmen on the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus have sent a letter to Google asking the Internet search giant to address privacy concerns and questions surrounding the use of Google Glass by June 14th. Congress wants to know how Google will address privacy issues for users and owners of Google Glass, as well as for non-users or non-owners when they are around users of Google Glass.
Google Glass has become a hot topic of debate over privacy and security recently as it is a new form of technology that the public doesn’t quite yet understand and because the wearable computing technology comes with cameras and microphones that can discretely record conversations, film videos, and capture images. Unlike the use of a traditional phone, camera, or other recording instrument, bystanders may not know that they are being photographed, filmed, or recorded by users of Glass as the recording can be activated at any time and it is more discrete–you can instantly spot a photographer in a room, but you may not be able to tell if you’re being photographed by Glass.
The big concern here is for people who may not be Glass users. Glass users probably already know the privacy and security risks involved and probably have to agree to some fine print before using Glass. However, if you’re sitting with Glass users, you may not know what your rights to privacy are, and you may find yourself the subject of a candid photograph captured by a Glass owner. Moreover, as Glass can upload these captured images to Google’s servers for archival, sharing, and storage, it’s unclear what rights Google will have on that image that you may not be aware was taken of you.
These Congressional leaders are asking Google to give information on how it will prevent unintentional data collection from Glass users as well as from bystanders who may be surrounded by Glass users. In the past, Google had to make a $7 million settlement in the U.S. over privacy concerns that it was collecting data from unprotected WiFi networks. Though Google said it wasn’t doing any evil with that information, a string of privacy concerns erupted in the U.S. and worldwide against the Internet search giant, and it looks like Congress wants to be proactive and prevent a similar incident with Glass.
Another concern that Congress wants addressed is with facial recognition. The letter asks, “Is it true that this product would be able to use Facial Recognition Technology to unveil personal information about whomever and even some inanimate objects that the user is viewing?”
Google had demonstrated at its developer Google I/O conference that it uses its knowledge graph to quickly identify faces for automated photo editing and it could also add hash tags and labels to unlabeled photographs based on analyzing an image for popular landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower.
With Glass, Google will be tasked with educating consumers on the risks, rewards, and benefits to the technology. A similar backlash occurred in the early 2000s with smartphones when cameras on phones started becoming popular. Manufacturers at the time had to create a phone version with a camera to appease consumers and another model without a camera for government and enterprise use. Today, cameras are welcomed on phones as it allows users to quickly document and archive working documents as a replacement for a scanner, and front-facing cameras are enabling mobile workers to collaborate with each other through video calling. As users become comfortable with technology, the rules and etiquette will change, and it’s up to Google to help define what those rules are at this stage through education and making people feel comfortable with the technology.
Glass is expected to arrive for consumers in 2014, later than what Google had initially promised.