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What You Need to Know About Google Glass and Privacy

Earlier this year, Google released Glass, which is essentially Google’s take on Internet-connected glasses. Despite the public’s excitement, privacy advocates are concerned about how wearers may misuse the product. Google claims that its customers know how to obey the “social contract,” but many consumers worry that Google is being too optimistic.
In the age of constant connectivity, what privacy rights do we still have? If information and data security are your passion, then look here to learn more about an online degree in cyber security. You might also be interested to learn more about Google Glass and what it could mean for your expectation of privacy.

How Does Glass Work?

Google’s Glass looks like the top of a pair of glasses attached to earpieces, except that it’s more substantial than regular glasses. In the left earpiece, you’ll find a processor, 16 GB of storage and a Bluetooth radio. On the right side, Google has placed a screen and a camera. Google has no plans to make a reversed pair for left-handed people because it says that most humans are right-eye dominant.
As you walk along wearing Glass, you can activate the screen and perform functions either by tapping or swiping the right earpiece or talking to your Glasses. If they go into sleep mode, then you have to nod your head to wake them up. Using the screen, you can view text messages and e-mail, and you can compose messages using voice commands. You can also leverage basic Google functions like getting maps and finding directions.
With a wink of your eye, you can take photos using the 5-megapixel camera. The screen is actually located above your right eye, so it doesn’t get in the way of your field of vision. You can watch videos while you’re walking through the subway terminal because you’re connected to an Android smartphone via Bluetooth (Glass does have limited iPhone functionality). Developers have also started to construct some apps for Glass.

What’s the Risk to Privacy?

Around July 4, Chris Barrett, founder of and a documentary filmmaker, recorded a boardwalk brawl and a subsequent arrest in Wildwood, N.J., while he was in a park to watch a fireworks show. The arrest could have easily been recorded with a smartphone. However, the hands-free unobtrusiveness of Glass meant that Barrett could record the incident without anyone noticing.
The recording concerned privacy advocates, who started to ask whether Google Glass wearers could record anyone in any situation without the recorded person noticing. Another concern involves the thought of Glass wearers watching pornography while they’re in public. West Virginia has already tried to pass a law that would forbid drivers from wearing Google Glass. Finally, if Google adds facial recognition technology, could innocent people be inadvertently hurt?
Lawmakers recently sent a letter to Google asking the following questions:

  1. How does Google prevent Glass wearers from unintentionally collecting data?
  2. How does Google plan to protect the privacy of non-users?
  3. What will happen when facial recognition technology is introduced?
  4. Would Google limit what Glass could reveal about another person?
  5. Will Google change its privacy policy?
  6. What “device-specific” information would Google Glass collect?
  7. How does Google screen Glass apps to see if they conform to its privacy policy?
  8. Does Glass store data locally, and how will Google prevent unauthorized access?

In addition to receiving inquiries from U.S. lawmakers, Google received a letter from 10 data and privacy commissioners from seven different companies. So far, the company isn’t inclined to change its privacy policy, although it has agreed to delay the release of facial recognition technology.

Should You Be Worried?

Right now, about 1,000 Google Glass devices have been released through the company’s Explorer program, which limits consumer access. However, once the devices become widely available, we may all have to rethink what we do in the public sphere. In 2009, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Or maybe you should only do those things in private. At least, until Google develops x-ray vision technology.
Boy wearing Google Glass by Stephen Balaban (iPhone at Hacker Dojo in Mountain View) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
About the Author: Tara Gray writes technology articles and blogs for a number of publications.

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