Do The Privacy Implications Of Google Glass Scare You?

    May 12, 2013

Google Glass has some people spooked. They think that Glass turns those who wear the technology into a surveillance cyborg. Now some groups are calling upon the government to take action.

Do you think Google Glass should be banned? Let us know in the comments.

TechDirt reports that a new We The People petition submitted on May 3, a man from Seattle, Washington is requesting that the government “Ban Google Glass from use in the USA until clear limitations are placed to prevent indecent public surveillance.” As the title suggets, those who have signed are scared of the privacy implications:

Google Glass is a new twist on technology which hasn’t had clearly stated limits on the locations in US communities where it can and cannot be used. In order to protect our communities we need limitations to prevent indecent public surveillance of our friends, children, and families.

It is hard to prevent it because the hardware gives no notification that it is recording an individual at any given time.

Aside from the admittedly weak (only 34 signatures in a week) petition, a group called Stop the Cyborgs has sprung up in recent months in protest of Google Glass. It’s not like they hate Google or Glass though. They also don’t want a ban. Instead, the group argues that they just want consumers to think about what they buy and the implications of technology:

  • That there is a social, commercial and technological trend towards ubiquitous surveillance and monitoring. This trend gives a few corporations and government agencies an unprecedented amount of information about individuals and society as a whole.
  • That human decisions are becoming increasingly influenced technological systems the internal workings of which are secret and which are difficult to challenge. This trend gives a few corporations and governments an unprecedented ability to manipulate society.
  • That initiatives like internet of things, smart cities and government 2.0 are replacing the democratic process with technical systems which will be difficult to change.
  • Even if organisations do not abuse their power. The combination of wearable computing & biometrics allows everything to be linked to a single identity available to anyone you interact with. Thus for example it becomes impossible to separate your professional and personal life; it becomes impossible to be politically active without your political affiliation being known to everyone you interact with; it becomes impossible to keep your relationships private; it becomes impossible to speak or behave freely in the moment without considering how your actions might be perceived in all future contexts and all future audiences.
  • As for its specific beef with Google Glass, the group lists a number of problems it has with the technology:

  • The camera is always pointing at head height and only needs to be electronically activated to record. This allows the possibility of accidental or remote activation.
  • The devices are hands free so the person does not need to take on the role of cameraman but rather just happens to be recording. This encourages people to record data and makes it harder to tell if someone is recording compared to them pointing a camera or smart phone at you.
  • Heads up displays allow people to be fed information without others knowing they are receiving it.
  • The devices are typically tied into a central server, which aggregates and stores information.
  • Their concerns may be legitimate as hackers with early access to Glass say its relatively easy to turn the device into a surveillance tool. The obvious first thought is that people can use Glass to spy on others, but the real threat is that hackers could use Glass to spy on the person wearing them. Jay Freeman explains:

    Once the attacker has root on your Glass, they have much more power than if they had access to your phone or even your computer: they have control over a camera and a microphone that are attached to your head. A bugged Glass doesn’t just watch your every move: it watches everything you are looking at (intentionally or furtively) and hears everything you do. The only thing it doesn’t know are your thoughts.

    The obvious problem, of course, is that you might be using it in fairly private situations. Yesterday, Robert Scoble demonstrated on his Google+ feed that it survived being in the shower with him. Thankfully (for him, and possibly for us), this extreme dedication to around-the-clock usage of Glass also protects him from malicious attacks: good luck getting even a minute alone with his hardware ;P.

    However, a more subtle issue is that, in a way, it also hacks into every device you interact with. It knows all your passwords, for example, as it can watch you type them. It even manages to monitor your usage of otherwise safe, old-fashioned technology: it watches you enter door codes, it takes pictures of your keys, and it records what you write using a pen and paper. Nothing is safe once your Glass has been hacked.

    Do you think fears of Google Glass are overblown? Or do you think hackers could wreak havoc on those who choose to wear Glass? Let us know in the comments.

    I think most can agree that hardware like Glass shouldn’t be allowed in certain places. It’s totally reasonable to ban its use at bars, strip clubs and other places that respect client confidentiality. It should also probably be banned from the workplace or other locations that handle sensitive data.

    That being said, the consumer version of Glass is at least a year away. That gives Google and developers enough time to ensure that Glass respects privacy while potentially ushering in a new era of wearable computing.

    Despite all of the fear circulating around Google Glass, you probably won’t have to worry about people abusing the technology. Those who use Glass will either be too busy taking selfies in the shower or being punched in the face.

    Is Google Glass a revolution in wearable computing? Or is it a surveillance nightmare? Let us know in the comments.