An important critique of Google Glass is that while it’s great for its users, it’s not so great for those who happen to be on the other side of its camera.
And that critique is an accurate one, as Google proved in a recent letter to Congressman Joe Barton, the co-chair of the Congressional Privacy Caucus. As Google notes multiple times in its note, “protecting the privacy and security of our users is one of our top priorities” — an obvious statement that raises a similarly obvious question: Where does that leave the privacy of Glass’s non-users?
In its letter, Google attempts to explain away the privacy concern by citing some of Glass’s basic functionality: When Glass users want to, for example, take a photo, they have to say something like “OK Glass”, which, in theory, would prevent them from secretly taking photos. More, Google currently prevents developers from disabling Glass’s screen when its camera is on, which might also foil attempts at stealthy photography.
Another of Barton’s more significant Glass concerns is how Google plans to handle facial recognition apps, which raise far more privacy concerns than straightforward photography. Google’s response: “Google has said for several years that we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy implications in place. With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition at this time.”
“At this time” is obviously the key phrase here. Google isn’t trying to hide the fact that facial recognition apps will eventually come to Glass — either from Google itself or a from third-party developer.
Google, however, doesn’t seem to view privacy as a technical concern. Instead, the company is banking on society to more organically develop its own customs about what constitutes proper Glass etiquette. If Google has its way, the eventual ubiquity of Glass and similar devices will force us to form our culture around the technology — not the other way around: “It is still very early days for Glass, and we expect that as with other new technologies, such as cell phones, behaviors and social norms will develop over time,” Google said in reaction to some of the early Glass criticism.
In other words, Glass is coming, and you’re just going to have to get used to it or stay out of the way.