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
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.
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June 6, 2013
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.
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May 22, 2013
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?”
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May 13, 2013
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.”
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May 9, 2013
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.”
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May 8, 2013
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.
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May 7, 2013
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.
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We’re continuing to track this story as it develops. Check back for more updates.