Google Glass and Privacy Rights in the Age of Wearable Computing


The Google glass, reality enhancing, wearable computing that allows you to be connected to the net hands free while on the move, is not yet available for consumers. But already privacy right watchdogs ask themselves whether the Google Glass infringes the privacy rights of citizens. Will this gadget entail the end of privacy? Should we be afraid of the lurking abuse and the possibility of a surveillance state?

This device creates computer-enhanced experiences which could be compared to virtual reality without interrupting real life. The Google Glass is connected to  a processor and the Internet. It can also be connected to a mobile phone. The gadget has a small camera on the right side that can take pictures or make HD videos and audio files of whatever the wearer looks at. Through an interior display that resembles a television screen, the wearer can see a small image of, for example, text messages, a google map for directions, the weather forecast or he can read e-mails. The device can be operated by voice commands and by moving the hands in front of the Google gadget.

Everything you see, Google sees

The invention of the Google Glass has led to many questions concerning the protection of information and privacy. The small built-in camera can see everything you see; it can see you eating a steak, typing your PIN code, writing down your memoirs or walking your dog. It is even water resistant and can therefore even be used under the shower or at the swimming pool or beach.

When the device would run facial recognition software, it would be possible to instantly check the name, address and other interesting facts about that nice girl or boy standing next to you in the bar. When one would wear the Google Glass, one could also use it to make videos or pictures of others without them knowing it. For example one could make a quick snap while your colleagues are not doing their work when they are at the office, or the gadget can be used to film strangers while they are using public restrooms, or sunbathing at the beach. Parents are afraid that strangers might abuse the Google Glass to secretly make pictures or videos of their children at the playground, or in another public place like a swimming pool.

Another scary scenario: If there's a breach, you will loose everything. Computers can see everything, including credit card numbers, PIN codes, etc. When the security is breached, not only the information about your private life can fall in the wrong hands but also the life and private information of the people in your surroundings, just because they have been noticed by the Google Glass. Could the information that is stored on the Google Glass be requested in order to track down a criminal because he was spotted by your Google Glass? Is that allowed? And what if your device has been hacked and used to spy on you and or to steal all your personal data?? This gadget could be used for other dark reasons such as a cyber terrorist attack or constant surveillance ("Big brother is watching you")...

Data protection and government officials from The Netherlands,   Australia,  Israel, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, and Switzerland are investigating which data the Google Glass collects and whether this is in conformity with data protection legislation.

US Congressman Joe Barton from the Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucu sent an open letter on 7 June. He posed eight questions concerning Google Glass and privacy. Google responded that privacy policy won't be altered for Google Glass

In the United States of America bars, strip clubs, movie theaters and casino's have already banned Google Glasses. In West Virginia state an amendment has already proposed in order to ban drivers from wearing Glass on the road. 

A campaign group from the UK, 'Stop The Cyborgs' ask for a limitation of the use of Google Glasses. They also wish for better information regarding the use of the Google Glass as a camera so one knows when one is filmed by someone who is wearing the gadget. The campaign group does not intend to ban this type of technology but rather the group would like to "actively set social and physical bounds around the use of technologies and not just fatalistically accept the direction technology is heading in".

Google has responded to the BBC regarding the questions on the potential invasion of privacy: "We are putting a lot of thought into how we design Glass because new technology always raises important new issues for society". Google also emphasised that in this age of social media "'s important for society and democracy that people can chat and live without fear that they might end up being published or prosecuted." Google also responded to questions raised by the US Congress concerning the creation of Google Glass.

People that were commenting on the issue say that the Google Glass does not raise new privacy issues but that it reignites fears concerning existing privacy issues. It is already possible to use a micro camera, micro recorder or your smartphones to record or create photo's or videos of other people without them knowing it. And when you walk in a busy public space, for example a crowded tourist area, it is likely that you unintentionally will end up on a picture made by a total stranger or a CCTV camera. And it is very well possible that this picture eventually will end up on someone's Facebook, twitter or Picasa page.

It is also hoped that an etiquette will come into existence when the Google Glass will become available on the consumer market. But will this informal means to protect privacy be enough? It is unlikely to happen. Perhaps it would be much wiser to work on the drafting of an international universal declaration on privacy rights and the protection of information concerning the use of wearable computing and augmenting reality devices to which both governments, and other parties must adhere.