TEXAS, May 17, 2013—Arguably the most futuristic technology on the horizon, Google Glass is an eyeglass-like wearable display that is connected to a camera, microphone and bone-conducting speaker. The device pairs with your smartphone wirelessly using Bluetooth, but can also use Wi-Fi to access the Internet. Using voice commands or a finger, users can take photos, record video, initiate video or voice chats, send messages, search Google, and translate words or phrases.
The current price for Google Glass is $1500 for qualifying early adopters. But Google has yet to announce a final retail price, or confirm a shipping date.
Although Google seems to have a potential hit, Google Glass is not without its detractors. In an undated letter (pdf) sent to Google CEO, Larry Page, eight members of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus (CBPC), including Co-Chairman, Joe Barton, have requested that Mr. Page respond by June 14, 2013 to a range of questions about privacy implications raised by its Google Glass project.
The letter, which seems cobbled together from a hodge-podge of news articles it cites as sources for its concern, first outlines a 2010 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigation into Google’s harvesting of private data sent over unencrypted wireless networks during its Street View data collection, it then asks Mr. Page in relation to the investigation, how Google intends to prevent Google Glass users from “unintentionally collecting data” from non-users. This is the first indication that the CBPC is simply reacting without first investigating; as one has nothing what-so-ever to do with the other.
In the FCC case Google had control over its Street View data collection program. Whether its operators collected private data intentionally or unintentionally, they were under Google’s employ, and therefore Google’s responsibility. However, how is Google supposed to prevent a user, who is not under its employ or its responsibility, from modifying Google Glass or employing it contrary to its intended use?
The letter also cites concerns about Facial Recognition software, and quotes what it says was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that stated, “It will only be a matter of time you’ll be able to aim the lens of your device at his or her face, and using face recognition technology get the individual’s address, work history, marital, measurements and hobbies.” It then asks Mr. Page if it is “true” that Google Glass will be able to use facial recognition software to “unveil personal information” and whether a non-user or “human subject” can opt out.
Google Glass product director, Steve Lee, at a fireside chat with developers, said that the Glass team takes privacy seriously. “From the beginning, the social implications … of Glass, of people wearing Glass have been at the top of our mind.” Addressing facial recognition, Lee said “we’ve definitely experimented with it but it is not in the product today.” However, he also said, “I can imagine that existing.”
Without doubt, Google Glass is a device that is ahead of its time; and lawmakers should be concerned whether it or any other product will unduly invade our privacy. But to single out Google Glass as a major threat to our privacy when government agencies such as the IRS claims it doesn’t need permission to open our personal email, texts or other forms of electronic correspondence, employers are able to force their employees or potential employees to give them the passwords to their social network accounts, and the average American can hardly walk down the street without being photographed or captured on video, is almost laughable.
If the CBPC is “curious” as to whether Google Glass could “infringe on the privacy of the average American,” it should be just as “curious” to look into the many other personal areas where our privacy is already infringed upon.
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