Ina Fried

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Congress Wants Answers From Google on Privacy Impact of Glass

A group of Congress members has sent a letter to Google seeking answers to a range of questions about the privacy implications raised by its Google Glass project.


The letter, addressed to CEO Larry Page and signed by eight members of the bipartisan Privacy Caucus, asks Google whether it plans to use facial recognition technology in conjunction with Glass, what proactive steps Google is taking to protect non-Glass-wearing bystanders and what privacy policy changes Google might make for Glass, among other topics.

The group, led by U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, seeks answers by June 14.

Glass, at this point, has a fairly limited range of abilities such as taking pictures, getting directions and performing a search. Developers can build simple apps using a programming interface called Mirror. However, Google announced on Thursday that it is readying a broader Glass Development Kit giving developers deeper access to the Glass hardware.

A Google representative was not immediately available for comment.

Update: At a fireside chat with developers, Google Glass product director Steve Lee said that the Glass team takes privacy seriously.

“From the beginning, the social implications … of Glass, of people wearing Glass, has been at the top of our mind,” Lee said, adding that the team extended its concern not just to those wearing Glass but those around them.

He noted that to take a picture requires pressing a button or issuing a voice command. Also, the Glass screen lights up when the device is active.

Lee said that Glass is operating by Google’s existing privacy policy in terms of what data it collects.

“We’re not really deviating from that,” Lee said.

As for face recognition, Lee said that “we’ve definitely experimented with it but it is not in the product today,” Lee said. “I can imagine that existing.”

Letter to Google From Congress re: Glass Privacy

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik