Google Glass Sees All—And That Raises Privacy Concerns

SAN FRANCISCO (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

Glass won’t be widely available for purchase until early next year, but it’s already one of the most anticipated new technologies in years. The question many are asking: Can Google make digital goggles the world’s next must-have gadget?

As Google sees it, Glass is a revolutionary new way to quickly and effortlessly connect people with information.

Critics view Glass as an invasive new technology that – if it takes off – could rob people of what few shreds of privacy they have left.

Lawmakers are alarmed by the privacy implications and have begun asking pointed questions of Google. And some commercial establishments have already banned Glass.

Google is downplaying the privacy and security risks, assuring the public that it will not permit facial recognition apps. Google says it’s obvious when someone is taking pictures or recording a video on Glass.

But some developers have already built a way to get around Google: an alternative operating system that runs on Glass but is not controlled by Google. One developer is making a facial recognition app that will help users remember the hundreds of people they have met and should recognize but don’t.

That in-your-face quality of Glass could wake more people up to their ever-shrinking privacy in the rapidly advancing digital age, University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo said.

Not only will people be more keenly aware that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public, Glass and devices like it could make it easier for government authorities to gain access to everything they see and record without a warrant, he said.

And, with a warrant, the government might even be able to remotely turn on Glass’s video-recording capability without the user’s knowledge, the way it has done with OnStar systems in cars, Calo said.

To counter that kind of growing apprehension, Google is trying to make the new technology seem as normal as possible.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin constantly has a pair perched on his nose. His cohort, Google chief executive and co-founder Larry Page, recently sported a pair as a groomsman in a wedding ceremony in Croatia. And he talked up Glass as the future of technology during Google’s second-quarter earnings conference call with analysts.

Still, even inside the high-tech industry, some aren’t too keen on Glass. Los Angeles technology entrepreneur and investor Jason Calacanis says he has asked friends to remove Glass in his presence.

Google is the first to admit that Glass is not quite ready for prime time, with widely reported glitches. The battery drains quickly (but also charges quickly). The capabilities are still very limited, with only a smattering of apps. And some complain that it’s not easy to hear notifications or phone calls with the bone conduction speaker.

Perhaps the most glaring omission: a way for the 64 percent of the U.S. population that wears glasses to use Glass. Google has made a prototype of prescription frames designed to be compatible with Glass, and said the company will release specifications for frame manufacturers.

“We still have bumps in the road and obstacles,” Glass product director Steve Lee said. “Right now, you need to be an early adopter who is excited about the technology.”

Glass is the first major product from Google X, the company’s super-secretive research laboratory for “moonshots,” big scientific bets such as self-driving cars. The lab is located in two nondescript brick buildings about a half-mile from Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus. A row of electric cars – including Teslas – is parked and charged out front.