Congress asks Google if and how it's protecting privacy with Glass

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Law & order, Privacy

Image from Stop the CyborgsThe US Congress on Thursday sent Google a letter [PDF] listing eight specific privacy areas concerning Glass that legislators would like to know quite a bit more about.

Congress members aren't the only ones.

Since the emergence of Glass - Google's uber-geeky, internet-enabled head gear that's worn like discrete, photo-snapping/video-grabbing eyeglasses - the technology has:

Congress - specifically, eight members of the privacy caucus - has thus risen from the swirl of speculation around Glass and asked Google to answer a specific list of questions.

Letter from Congress to Larry Page Google

Here they are, reiterated and unfolded (Congress packed multiple questions into one question in a few spots):

  1. How will Glass not be like WiSpy? As in, how is Google going to prevent Glass from unintentionally collecting data about users or non-users without consent? As it is, Congress pointed out, the company was fined $7 million for its StreetView cars having sucked up information via unsecured wireless networks. How will Google avoid a similar mess with Glass?
  2. How will Google proactively protect non-users who get ogled?
  3. Is Google building in product lifecycle guidelines? One such framework is Privacy by Design, which covers the embedding of privacy and data protection throughout a technology's lifecycle, from the early design stage to its deployment, use and ultimate disposal. Specifically, Congress wants to know what happens when a customer resells or otherwise disposes of Glass and whether Google has baked in capabilities to keep the original owner's personal information secure.
  4. Will Glass use facial recognition? If so, how do users get that information? How do non-users opt out of this personal data collection? If they can't opt out, why is that?
  5. Under what circumstances does Google refuse requests from Glass that invade the privacy of others? Congress here references Google's Privacy Policy, which states that it may reject requests that are:

    "... unreasonably repetitive, require disproportionate technical effort, ... risk the privacy of others, or would be extremely impractical..."

  6. Is Google tweaking its privacy policy to reflect the sensory and processing capabilities of Google Glass? If not, why not?
  7. What device-specific information is Google collecting from Glass? Here, Congress is referencing Google Privacy Policy as it pertains to collecting hardware models, operating system versions, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information, including phone numbers.
  8. Is Google collecting data about the user without the user's knowledge?
  9. To what extent was privacy considered when approving the first app for Google Glass, rolled out by the New York Times? How is Google ensuring that privacy's a priority for the other app developers who've since followed suit?
  10. Is Glass storing data on the device itself? If so, will it be protected, and if so, via what type of user authentication or other means?

Congress is looking for answers by Friday, June 14.

These are great questions, and Congress is to be lauded for asking them.

Some Congress members - well, one, at any rate - actually think highly enough of Google's past respect for privacy to take hope in Glass being rolled out with all due care.

Here's how Sen. Al Franken a Democrat from Minnesota, put it to Ars Technica:

"In the past, Google has taken a principled position in making facial recognition an opt-in service for its social network, Google+... This gives me hope that this same kind of thoughtfulness will be applied to its roll-out of Glass. I’m looking forward to talking to Google more about its deployment of Glass and what it means for privacy."

Senator, let us hope that *your* hope is not misplaced.

Mine tends to be shredded whenever I contemplate Google's voluminous Privacy Rap Sheet.

Image of "No Google Glass" courtesy of Stop the Cyborgs.

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12 Responses to Congress asks Google if and how it's protecting privacy with Glass

  1. Magyver · 871 days ago

    "Swami Magyver", psychic future news reporter:

    Washington DC:
    Breaking News: The FBI and CIA order 375,000 pairs of Google Glasses

  2. Tony · 871 days ago

    The future possibilities are endless.

    Google Glasses Version 2. Includes the X-Ray Specs of 1960's comic book back page advertising fame, "See the bones in your hand, see through clothes".

    Google Glasses Version 3. Now includes X-Ray Specs, Sea Monkey's, CB Radio, Thermal Imaging Binoculars and Radar Detector.

    And so on.........

  3. Randy · 871 days ago

    I think it's more than hypocritical of congress to show so much concern about privacy of American citizens. NOBODY spies on the American public more than our own government. It's really a moot point. When all the tax and fee increases from Obamacare go into effect, no American citizen will be able to afford Google Glasses.
    One other thought: After the government thinks about it for a while, they may actually encourage the Glass, maybe even subsidize them to it's citizens. Imagine the government making a deal with Google, exchanging permission to sell them for rights to a back door access to their output. Government would just love to have their citizens wearing hacked Glass units. That would be over 300 million eyes feeding video on American's activities to the government 24/7.

  4. erthwjim · 871 days ago

    Only the government is allowed to invade people's privacy, how dare Google step on their feet.

  5. mike · 871 days ago

    I think terrorist minded individuals' will wear them to spy targets, and it will be a lot less obvious than when they were spotted taking pictures of targets around the 9/11 time. I think the tech is cool, but like all tools in the wrong hands look out.

    • Really!?! You think Glass is LESS OBVIOUS than tourists taking pics of tourist attractions? Have you SEEN them? Have you SEEN anyone use them?

      You can't put the genie back in the bottle. I keep hearing the inane argument that if we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. Well guess what? It applies to Glass, and 3D printers, and every other tech on this earth too. If you plan on limiting whether Glass is made available or where I can where i can wear Glass, I better not ever see anyone with a gun anywhere Glass is prohibited.

  6. Sootie · 871 days ago

    You can have tiny cameras that are much harder to spot now and almost everyone in the world now has a phone in their pocket capable of doing everything that glass does and more as far as invasion of privacy, what difference does it make if some people choose to wear it out in the open for everyone to see instead of keeping it in their pocket?

  7. I'm weaning myself off Google. Now using Maxthon. I hope others will do the same. This is because of all the sleazy ads that appear when using Google Chrome. If they stoop that low to earn money, they will not get any support from me.

    • Lisa Vaas · 870 days ago

      I feel compelled to mention this article whenever anybody says they're thinking of dumping Google:

    • Magyver · 870 days ago

      DuckDuckGo has a good search service and runs it better than most sites. They are open about their bots and will give webmasters the list of the IP's.

      I specifically asked for them to make sure I didn't block them by mistake. I can assure you they get around quite well because my humble websites have been well indexed by them.

      Anyone wanting a good alternative search engine the can trust should search for reviews.

    • Steve · 870 days ago

      Hi Ralph, I use Chrome & I can't say I've noticed any "sleazy" ads appearing. Sure I've noticed some ads....mostly for Chinese companies & products.... but I've no interest in them. But Sleazy? No, they don't appear on my screen. It's why I actually like Chrome: No "In-Your-Face" pop-ups .....just quietly announced companies/ sleaze here.

      • I don't see any "sleazy" ads either. There absolutely are some ads. Free broadcast TV has ads too. You can't give away a service and not make money on it somehow. I love Google, and I love Chrome BECAUSE Google's ads are so unobtrusive. If anybody does advertising right, it's Google.

        I have a low-tolerance for people who want to use free services and then complain about the ads that support those services.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.