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May 17, 2013

How Big a Privacy Risk is Google Glass?

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

When a Seattle bar announced, in no uncertain--or understated--terms, that it would not serve anyone wearing the Google (News - Alert) Glass headset, it touched off something of a firestorm of concern about the device's privacy. Now, said privacy concerns have gone quite a bit farther, reaching even the congressional Privacy Caucus, which is reportedly very concerned about just how much Google Glass could reveal.

According to the members of the congressional Privacy Caucus in question, the wider powers of Google Glass may pose a significant threat to the privacy of those targeted by its users. Under the right conditions, Google Glass could allow a user to look at a person and use a resulting photograph to find that person's name, address, marital status, hobbies and a host of other possible items right from the Google Glass platform. Having all that information in one place would potentially be a risk to privacy, and thus the Privacy Caucus members fired off a letter to Google CEO Larry Page (News - Alert), to see just what's being done--if anything--in terms of protecting the privacy of people on the other side of Google Glass, much the same way Seattle's 5 Point Bar wondered at one point.

Google Glass uses a voice interface to allow users to do things like take pictures or look up directions online, and would also be able to collect data with a front-mounted camera. That left the Privacy Caucus members wondering just what data the Glass system would collect, and if those on the other side of that camera could at all opt out of the data collection process. Further, the members wondered about rejecting third-party apps based on privacy matters and how Google's privacy policy would extend, if at all, to Google Glass.

Google representatives were ready with a response, reportedly saying, "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 — and we're excited to hear the feedback."

Google has come somewhat under fire previously over privacy, like collecting data from home Wi-Fi networks, so checking on Google's plans in terms of privacy may not be a bad idea. But then, the nature of Google Glass only goes so far in terms of privacy. After all, those things the Privacy Caucus members are noting--name, address, hobbies, work history and so on--are often publicly available anyway. Google Glass just serves as a platform to reach that information, so concerns about privacy must be somewhat tempered. However, having an always-on camera potentially recording everything within immediate earshot and line of sight is just as much a disturbing issue of privacy as any amount of data record access. Other issues, like being able to track where Glass headsets are located at any given time, are also potentially in the mix without some kind of intervention.

Indeed, there are valid issues of privacy relating to Google Glass, so the Privacy Caucus membership probably isn't overreacting on this front. Though the concerns raised aren't covering all the concerns available, and are probably covering instead some of the least valid of the available concerns, there are certainly still issues to tackle. Hopefully as Google gets closer to releasing Google Glass, such issues will be addressed to the satisfaction of all.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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