Eight members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus sent last week a letter to Google’s CEO, Larry Page, requesting him to answer several questions about Google’s Project Glass by June 14. The eight representatives are seeking to find out if and how Google Glass could infringe on people’s privacy.
Google announced its Google Glass project in April 2012. It was first introduced as a cool gadget allowing young men to woo their girlfriends playing the ukulele and parents to take pictures of their children while holding them by both hands. It immediately caught a lot of media attention and was even named one of the best inventions for 2012 by Time.
It not only allows users to take pictures on the go, without having to hold a camera, but also to receive and send emails, to talk to friends and colleagues while seeing them on video, to share their geolocation by checking in, to access the internet, and to update their social media status.
Multitasking, yes, and some of these features may be a possible threat to the privacy of persons around a Google Glass user. In their letter, the congressmen noted that one does not yet know if Google has plans to incorporate privacy protection in its new product.
8 Questions to Google
Here are the 8 questions asked to Larry Page in the letter:
- Does Google have plans to prevent Google Glass from unintentionally collecting data from persons around the device, just as Google Street View did in 2010?
- Are privacy frameworks, such as Privacy By Design, incorporated in the device?
- Will Google Glass use Facial Recognition Technology?
- When would Google reject requests which would be intrusive to other’s privacy?
- Will Google Glass collect device-specific information, such as mobile network information, and collect personal data of its users?
- How will privacy be protected in Google Glass apps, such as the one recently released by the New York Times?
- Does Google Glass have the capacity to store data?
Regulating by Etiquette, or Regulating by Law?
These questions are not hypothetical, as Google Glass is already selling, for about $1,500, to a few chosen customers. Maybe you have already spotted someone wearing them?
The letter to Larry Page notes that a bar in Seattle has already banned the device. A tongue-in-cheek video about how obnoxious a Google Glass user could be is circulating on the Internet.
Facial recognition is probably the most potentially invasive feature of Google Glass. Motorola Mobility, owned by Google, acquired last Fall Viewdle, a facial recognition company, just like Facebook had acquired Faces.com a few months earlier. Facebook reintroduced its photo tag suggestion feature on January 30, 2013.
However, Google’s Chairman Eric Schmidt stated in 2011 that his company would not build a facial recognition database. He was quoted then saying that “[h]opefully the French or any other country won’t pass laws that are so foolish they force Google to not be able to operate in those countries.”
Would it be “foolish” for legislators to regulate Google Glass? And should the new challenges to privacy that Google Glass may cause be regulated by law or by… etiquette? Indeed, Google Glass offers many opportunities to break social etiquette, including surreptitious filming. In April, Eric Schmidt declared that people will have to develop a new etiquette for Google Glass and similar products.
But etiquette may not be the best path to regulate the privacy intrusion risks caused by Google Glass, and Little Miss Manners should not be sole in charge of regulating privacy. We’ll soon see the letter sent last week is the legislators’ first step toward legislation.