Tracking: The Ban On Google Glass

A Las Vegas casino, a Seattle dive bar, and West Virginia legislators are already outlawing use of Google Glass. Are schools, gyms, movie theaters, or hospitals next?

Google Glass, the smart-computer headset, has garnered as much media attention for its implications for modern privacy as it has for its potential to become the next big gamechanger in wearable hardware. Just 2,000 pairs of the headsets are out in the wild right now as Google tests its Glass Explorer field trial program in preparation for a commercial launch by the end of 2013.

Should Glass achieve commercial success, it could change the way many of us interact with the web, record media, access directions, and much more. But as with any revolutionary technological advancement, many questions hang in the air: Are early privacy concerns about Glass overblown? Will we learn to adapt, the way we did to Google's own Gmail, whose ads initially perturbed us with their intrusive nature? Or will Glass prove to be too quantum a leap for the privacy-starved among us to digest? We'll be exploring that question here.

July 1, 2013

Congressional Caucus "Disappointed" By Google's Response To Questions About Glass And Privacy Concerns

Google's VP for public policy Sue Molinari has responded to a letter the company received from the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus in June. In the letter, originally addressed to Google CEO Larry Page, caucus leader Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) asked the company to clarify or expand on several points of concern the group had regarding Glass, though only 2,000 or so pairs are currently out in the wild under the Glass Explorer trial program.

In a four-page response, Molinari reiterates much of what we've heard come out of the company through various Google representatives over the past few months, namely that protecting user security and privacy as it relates to hairy subjects such as facial recognition technology and third-party apps "is a top priority" for the company.

Apparently the caucus members weren't very satisfied with Google's answers, because Rep. Barton expressed his disappointment in a statement he issued today:

"I am disappointed in the responses we received from Google. There were questions that were not adequately answered and some not answered at all. Google Glass has the potential to change the way people communicate and interact. When new technology like this is introduced that could change societal norms, I believe it is important that people’s rights be protected and vital that privacy is built into the device. I look forward to continuing a working relationship with Google as Google Glass develops."

Of course, as Molinari points out, these are still early days for Glass—it's easy to forget the device isn't even commercially available today, and that many of its current features could change between now and the end of the year, its expected retail on-sale date. Whether those potential changes will put the Congress members at ease or amplify their fears remains to be seen.
[Back to top]

June 6, 2013

More Casinos Ban Glass, Regulators Are Nervous

The gaming authorities in New Jersey are so very nervous about the implications of Google Glass for cheating in casinos that they've given the all clear for the region's 12 casinos to ban the device if they choose. The concern about these "eyeglasses," the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement says, is that if they're worn during a poker game, for example, "they could be used to broadcast a patron’s hand to a confederate or otherwise be used in a collusive manner."

That's pretty obviously true, though in Glass' current implementation bystanders or officials would probably be able to spot the glow in Glass's eyepiece to see that it was on—which could imply it was being used to cheat.

Google spoke to TheNextWeb about the matter and said that "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."

What Google may have to consider is that there may be an outright ban on Glass's future versions in certain establishments, and it could benefit from technical fixes to address some concerns. One consideration may be the upcoming prescription lens edition of Glass, which may prove difficult for wearers to remove if they're required to do so.
[Back to top]

May 22, 2013

Glass Could Be A Welcome Addition To Museums

Art museums are one of the last bastions of the no-photography-allowed world we left behind once smartphones came into the mainstream. The ever-present camera phone meant it was hardly uncommon to see a museum visitor taking in art from behind a lens. Which is why some art museums, which historically have maintained strict rules about photography and video recording on premises, have embraced open photography and video recording policies in recent years.

"As everyone has a camera on their smartphone, our gallery guides and security staff can't tell if someone's checking a text message or taking a picture," says Anne Young, manager of rights and reproductions at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. "It's too difficult to try to man that and it becomes the question: Is this the best use of our security staff's time?"

And if Google Glass goes mainstream, museums will soon be greeting bespectacled guests who are essentially walking, talking cameras. But some museum administrators say Glass hardly presents a problem—in fact, it could be a welcome benefit.

"We know that taking pictures is a primary way that people connect with art, so we've taken steps to be as open to photography as possible," says Erin Hogan, a spokesperson for the Art Institute of Chicago. "Google Glass would just be another means of taking pictures in this sense."

Hogan adds that Google Glass could heighten the visitor experience by allowing guests to build customized experiences—indeed, it's not hard to imagine a Glass-supported guided tour through a gallery, complete with artist facts pulled from the built-in search.

Open photo and video policies are also beneficial for the museums themselves, as guests' images often end up going out on their social media channels, providing free promotion, says Brooke Fruchtman, associate VP of public engagement at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"We're already trending in that direction," Fruchtman says about a truly open photo policy. "That's what we want people to do. So [Glass] doesn't feel scary or problematic to us."

Though none of the museum administrators interviewed for this story had yet engaged in formal internal discussions about Glass, all expressed positive sentiments similar to Fruchtman's.

"If this is a way people feel comfortable interacting with artworks, why not promote that?" says Young. "Why not promote visitors coming in and being able to take a photograph of an artwork, then using Google to search it and find out more about it than even what we may have on the gallery label?"
[Back to top]

May 13, 2013

At Hospitals, Glass Could Steer New Privacy Policies

Though hospitals house all kinds of sensitive patient data, including medical records and insurance information, any forthcoming policies regarding Glass use on-premises could vary greatly depending on the individual medical center.

"I would venture to say that we will probably have some kind of policy in place that would ban the use of these glasses until we learned more about them and their use, because it could impend on patient privacy," says Jim Mandler of Continuum Health Partners, a New York-based hospital system whose locations include the Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke's Hospital. Mandler says the nonprofit has not yet had any discussions regarding Glass's potential impact on its campuses.

But the Mayo Clinic's chief compliance officer, Kim Otte, calls Glass "just an iteration of previous technologies" and says the Mayo Clinic does not necessarily routinely amend its policies because of a new piece of technology.

Otte says it's "telling" that the medical practice has not formally discussed any Glass-specific policy amendments. "If we anticipated that [Glass] was going to be a significantly new issue and require a lot of policy changes, we probably would have talked about it more from a privacy and risk perspective," she says. "But we really haven't."

Hospitals already have policies that cover rules for photographing and videotaping on premises. At the Mayo Clinic's campuses, for example, you're not allowed to tape or photograph daily patient care activities, and you can only tape patients in their rooms, with their permission.

Continuum tries to be "as lenient as possible" with their filming policies in certain situations, such as on the OBGYN floor where new parents might want to film a childbirth, Mandler says. "We know that technology advances and that we need to advance with that technology," he says. "But our principle focus has always been the safety of our patients, and that's what we will focus any policy on."

The Mayo Clinic's Otte says Glass isn't in a class of its own—it's simply just another device being added to an existing body of potentially problematic devices. "In some ways, [Glass] is less problematic because I can see when someone has it on," she says. "It's not like it's invisible. In some ways it's not all that different from an iPhone."
[Back to top]

May 9, 2013

Cinema Exec: Movie Theaters Could Possibly Ban Glass

It's still early days for Glass, and even though most movie theaters explicitly forbid guests from bringing in audio or video recording devices, we've yet to see a theater declare an outright ban of the device. But Patrick Corcoran, a VP at the National Association of Theatre Owners, says he expects the organization to begin working with its hundreds of members—including large theater chains such as Regal Cinemas and Landmark Theatres—to develop new in-theater policies that specifically address how guests can and can't use Glass.

"I can certainly see theaters developing a policy where you'd have to either put them away or check them at the Guest Services desk and get them afterwards."

(A note: The checking system may not be feasible if Google retains one of its current terms of sale provision, which states that Glass owners "may not resell, loan, transfer, or give your Device to any other person" without Google's approval.)

Corcoran says movie theft is one of NATO's biggest concerns. The organization works with the Motion Picture Association of America to regularly conduct training seminars across the country, in which it educates theater employees on the latest news and trends around in-theater camcording. Corcoran says it probably won't be long before Glass becomes a talking point during these seminars.

"It's one of the things we've really just started thinking about," he says. "We're going to have to work with our member companies to develop training programs for how to deal with it."

Considering Glass isn't even expected to be widely available until the end of this year, it may be a while still before theaters begin to report Glass-related incidents.

"Our staff members have not reported any instances of Google Glasses being used in a theatre at this time," says Russ Nunley, a Regal Cinemas representative. "But our existing policies do prohibit the recording or transmitting of films."
[Back to top]

May 8, 2013

State Senator Says Google Glass-Wearing Drivers Present A "Clear And Present Danger"

Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, who has introduced several (rejected) bills over the past few years attempting to ban texting while driving in the state, told Fast Company Google Glass presents "such a clear and present danger that I would like to call upon Google itself to build in safeguards."

"If they want to avoid a whole lot of bad publicity for some horrible accidents and a lot of lawsuits, if I were them I would definitely build something like that into it," he says.

For its part, Google has said it believes there is "tremendous potential to improve safety on our roads and reduce accidents." One Verge reporter recently took Glass on a less-than-smooth test drive. But he didn't crash.

One of Farley's safeguard suggestions is a detector that registers when you're in a moving vehicle—say, when you're moving at more than 10 miles an hour—and automatically render Glass inoperable. (What if you're simply a Glass-clad passenger who's not behind the wheel, just along for the ride? Farley's reply: "I guess you'll have to go back to your iPad, then.")

Back in March, West Virginia State Representative Gary G. Howell introduced a bill that proposed an amendment to the state's texting-while-driving law which would also make it an offense to get behind the wheel while "using a wearable computer with a head-mounted display." Our guess is more states with bans or partial bans on texting while driving (currently 39 states and Washington, D.C.) will soon follow the West Virginia legislators' example.

It's also possible Glass will provide a push to states such as Farley's, where there are no current texting bans, to finally consider stricter enforcement.
[Back to top]

May 7, 2013

Welcome To The Brave New World Of Google Glass

In a recent Saturday Night Live sketch, Fred Armisen pokes fun at the sometimes-awkward gestures required to interact with tech's shiny new plaything, Google Glass. Yes, there's a lot of unnatural head-jerking and bobbing. But, gestural comedy aside, Armisen says a line that's anchored in a Glass feature that privacy advocates don't find so funny:

"It's great because no one knows you're doing it."

Though Glass is only just starting to roll out to 2,000 developers, with more on the way, the resistance from privacy advocates and legislators is already underfoot, closely followed by inevitable, knee-jerk rulings.

The New York Times reports today the augmented reality headset has been preemptively banned by a Seattle dive bar. West Virginia legislators have attempted to make it illegal for drivers to sport Glass behind the wheel. Las Vegas casinos such as Caesars, which prohibits computers and recording devices, won't be welcoming Glass. And a White House petition requests the federal government ban Glass from the entire United States until we enforce stricter limitations on public surveillance. (As of this writing, the petition has 21 signatures.)

As the list of concerned protesters continues to grow, we began to wonder: Where will we be most likely to see this Glass resistance moving forward? We put together a short list, one we'll continue to flesh out as more examples crop up in the news:

Movie theaters and concert venues - It's interesting to consider what Glass could do for film piracy and that annoying guy in front of you who waved his phone snapping photos through an entire two-hours concert. But these are two of the most obvious examples of places that traditionally prohibit cameras.

Public schools - Or nurseries, or playgrounds. Really, anywhere with an influx of children is going to be a potential hotbed of legal headaches.

Behind the wheel - The West Virginia legislators' attempt to ban Glass while driving will inevitably gain favor within other states, which will likely include many of the country's 39 states and Washington, D.C., where texting while driving is prohibited.

Hospitals - Hospitals house boatloads of some of our most personal data, including medical records and insurance information. A stray paper or tilted clipboard could easily find its way into a Glass photo.

Banks and ATMs - Similar to the hospital example, it's not unfathomable to imagine a Glass-clad someone hovering a little too close to your left shoulder to peep a glance at (not to mention a photo of) your credit card.

Dressing rooms, locker rooms, and other rooms with people who are potentially naked - Think everywhere from department stores to your gym to strip clubs.

Yes, Glass was designed with particular safeguards in mind—having to face your subject directly to take a photograph or video of them is one; having to say, "Okay, Glass, take a picture" before you can start snapping is another. But developer-created apps such as Winky, a gesture-based app that lets you take a picture simply by winking, will almost certainly continue to compel more organizations and businesses to attempt to ban Glass.

Because Glass's evolution is still nascent, it's too early to tell whether or not privacy concerns are overblown or not. Google Glass adviser Thad Starner tells the New York Times: "Asocial people will be able to find a way to do asocial things with this technology, but on average people like to maintain the social contract."

It's also too early to tell whether or not Google will take peoples' concerns into consideration in future iterations of Glass. Dan Nosowitz at Popular Science, for example, suggests a simple blinking-red light to signal when the wearer is recording video.

If this all sounds familiar, it's because we've seen it before: During the advent of digital cameras, then cell phones with cameras, then camera phones that also recorded video, these devices were being banned left and right when they initially came out. Today, however, it's laughable to think of someone trying to stop us from bringing, say, an iPhone into the gym locker room, or a school.

As with any revolutionary technological advancement, the question remains: Will we learn to adapt, the way we did to Google's own Gmail, whose ads initially perturbed us? Or will Glass prove to be too quantum a leap for the privacy-starved among us to digest? We'll be exploring that question here.
[Back to top]

We're continuing to track this story as it develops. Check back for more updates.

Add New Comment


  • onelag

    Gmail ads never bothered me. As adwords on the search, I simply don't see it. And if that is true for me, I believe it is also true to a lot of people...

    Glass is inevitable. But the blinking red light sure seems a simple and effective way to handle this.

  • Monkey Man

    When I grow up I want to look just like one of these cool super-douchers! As a promotional Google should give out superhero capes with every purchase of a pair of Glass. By chance do one, or even all three of these mega-douchers go by the name of Gaylord? Watch out, Gaylord in the middle is about to whip out his Star Wars Light Saber. Did these guys lose a bet to Sergi? Even super nerds are like "WTF" is that!

  • CQ

    "Corcoran says movie theft is one of NATO's biggest concerns. "

    Well, it seems that NATO has to focus on something after Afghanistan! 

  • Mike

    NATO (*National Association of Theatre Owners*) Not the North Atlantic Treaty Orginization. Completely different

  • onelag

    Should've explained. It's clear by context that it was not the military organization, but I never knew that other NATO existed...

  • John L. Lee

    As I said before the reflective glint from the lens makes an excellent aiming point.
    ...Cyberzombies? or Pioneers? Heads in the Cloud or head firmly planted somewhere else. This used to be said about Apple "You can always tell the Pioneers by the arrows in their backs" It's Narcissistic , I see too many using it to look in the mirror. ...Guess I could think of one use. ...To help identify your assailant in the police line up. ...And good luck with that one!

  • Monkey Man

    Why are we continually exposed to this shot of Brin pointing at something?  He and its nauseating.

  • Monkey Man

    I also don't want someone that's wearing them to look my way.  Thieves will certainly love them, what a great tool to use in "casing" a place to rob.  

    I feel Glass is useless and will do nothing more then to cost our economy even more in lost time and productivity - more so then it already loses from worthless time spent on Facebook, playing silly Zynga games, etc. 

    I'm sure these and other technologies soon to be introduced by Apple and MS will provide valuable use in some circumstances, but not for the masses.

  • MicroSourcing

    New technology will always call for new laws and regulation. Google Glass has been exceptionally controversial and has drawn such a  strong response across different sectors.

  • MG

    Useless argument. People are the danger themselves not the technology. Take off the glass, use your mobile to text, talk to the person near you, look at a woman passing by, be intoxicated, whatever it is, you'll always have an excuse.

  • mr incredible

    I just have one question: 
    When glass is embedded into prescription eyeglass frames, how can they be banned? You cannot turn down a customer on the basis that they wear glasses. Without my glasses, I cannot see. 

    Interesting times indeed. 

  • ironshu

    In that case it would be your own fault for using prescription Google Glasses. If I were a store owner, my approach would be "your problem, not mine".

    Personally, I'll be telling anyone wearing these things around me to take them off - the same way if someone started pointing a camera at me without permission, I would either inquire why, or tell them to stop. The problem with the Glass is that you won't know if they're using it on you so the best bet is to just tell them to take it off.

  • Monkey Man

    Oh well, keep a second pair on you without the spyware (or is it spywear).

    Perverts on the beach, pedophiles, etc. are going to love them!

    Thanks Google, can't wait for the see through clothing app to come out.


  • Monkey Man

    Ward, you seem to be the authority on all things perve. By chance do you spend the majority of your time around schools, handing out candy, in a rain coat, with nothing on underneath?

    Yes Chester, you saw through me, I simply can't afford Glass "when they become available to the public". May I ask, and this is just a hunch, do you pleasure yourself to the thought of the day they are released, among other things?

    Get lost you friggin' weirdo

  • WARD

    There are many hidden camera devices already on the market that don't display light when recording you. If perverts just want to record people secretly they only need 50 bucks to get a device that will do it. People are already doing this with smart phones to be perverted and you can get creative in hiding the camera from others. When something is strapped to your face and glows when it records people are going to tell if your sticking the camera in between stalls to record you or recording at the beach. Which if some people were using a big ass camera to film their trip at the beach would you really go over and ask them to stop recording? People take pictures at the beach with hundreds of people off in the background. People record memories everywhere and you're probably in a dozen home movies your not aware of thanks to smart phones. How many times have you been in the background of someone's photograph? This device will not help perverts take photos of perverted things they already have a slew of devices that can do that easily. Yeah maybe getting your card info will be easier but why use an obvious device when you can own a camera watch and just get the info that way without having to look suspicious by having your Google glass on while in line for purchases. Google glass just changed where people keep the device while off. It has low battery capacity and needs WiFi or Bluetooth to work which probably kills both devices rather quickly when not filming. This device is a far cry from privacy hazard. The government already has all the info on you and you can purchase info like that from another company. Why is Glass such a threat to you? Are you jealous you can't afford one when it becomes public?

  • mr incredible

    Curious... do you ask everyone around you to remove their bluetooth headsets? You don't know if they are recording you or not so it might be better off to tell them to take it off. 

    Same goes for using a laptop in a coffee shop. Most laptops have cameras. Are you going to ask people to stop getting work done just so you can feel comfortable knowing no one is watching?

    I don't know where I stand on this issue, but what I do know is that there will be an interesting battle between tech and it's usability vs perceived privacy. 
    Just remember... security cameras are watching you anyway. 

  • Monkey Man

    Your lame.  Security cameras have a purpose, to deter as well provide evidence of a theft or crime.  Unless your blind anyone could obviously see a laptop pointing at you recording, as well those near the person who is recording you.  Your bluetooth argument isn't worth a response (as well those who wear them in public places look stupid as well).

    You should get a PR job in Mountain View, unless your already writing from there.