Should Facial Recognition Be Allowed On Google Glass?

    May 28, 2013
    Chris Crum

The “Terminator” films have been mentioned more than a handful of times in discussions about Google Glass, and this is not going to do anything to make the comparison less relevant. Facial recognition is reportedly coming to Google Glass, potentially opening up the doors for anybody to have Terminator-like features.

Are you concerned about the future of privacy with regards to devices like Google Glass? Tell us what you think.

Google itself is not offering facial recognition with Google Glass. At least not yet. But that’s not stopping others from developing the technology for the device.

Matt Warman at The Telegraph, noting that Google’s terms do not forbid the use of the device for facial recognition, reports that San Francisco-based Lambbda Labs is set to launch its API to developers “in days”. He writes, “The first version of Lamda Labs software forces users take photographs, tag them with information on who is in them and then compare any subsequent photographs taken to those previously uploaded. Future versions, however, may allow real-time recognition of faces.”

Sarah Connor?

Come to think of it, this could prove even more precise than Terminator features, because even the Terminator got the wrong Sarah Connor to begin with.

Google has reportedly said that it will not implement its own facial recognition technology in Glass, until it has prviacy protections in place.

The bi-partisan congressional Privacy Caucus recently sent an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page asking for clarification on various Glass issues. Included were these questions:

When using Google Glass, is it true that this product would be able to use Facial Recognition Technology to unveil personal information about whomever and even som inanimate objects that the user is viewing? Would a user be able to request such information? Can a non-user or human subject opt out of this collection of personal data? If so, How? If not, why not?

In Google’s privacy policy, it states that the company “may reject requests that are unreasonably repetitive, require disproportionate technical effort…risk the privacy of others, or would be extremely impractical.” Please provide examples of when Google would reject requests on Google Glass that would risk the privacy of others? Would Google place limits on the technology and what type of information it can reveal about another person? If so, please explain. If not, why not?

They gave Page until June 14h to respond to concerns (which were not limited to these specifically).

Beyond the obvious privacy implications, there are good things that could become of such capabilities. As Warman notes, people have suggested examples like apps for doormen to make admission to events easier or software for disabled people. Perhaps a blind person, for example, could use the device to capture a person’s face, and then be told whose face is in front of them via audio.

TechCrunch recently spoke with Lambda Labs co-founder Stephen Balaban. Sarah Perez reports:

Applied to Glass, the technology will enable apps such as “remember this face,” “find your friends in a crowd,” “networking event interest matching,” “intelligent contact books,” and more, Balaban explains

According to Warman, there are already 1,000 developers working with Lambda Labs’ software, generating five million attempts at recognition per month, and that’s without Glass. And that’s just one company’s software. Consider the possibility that many others could implement their own facial recognition capabilities with various features attached.

Facebook, for example has over a billion users, and it already has an app for Glass. Less than a year ago, the company bought facial recognition company Here’s an interview we did with CEO Gil Hirsch before the acquisition.

Google, of course, has its own facial recognition capabilities, and it would be pretty surprising if it didn’t implement them at some point. In fact, the company acquired Viewdle, a facial recognition and augmented reality company, as recently as last fall.

More recently, at Google I/O earlier this month, Google revealed some new photo features for Google+, including the ability to automatically sort photos by landmark, human presence, aesthetics and other indicators. It’s getting better at recognizing what is in an image.

Of course many have expressed concerns about facial recognition technology regardless of whether or not Google Glass is involved. A Memorial Day report from the Associated Press suggests that “drones with facial recognition technology will end anonymity, everywhere.”

“Adding that capability to drones that can fly into spaces where planes cannot — machines that can track a person moving about and can stay aloft for days — means that people will give up privacy as well as the concept of anonymity,” writes Andrew Conte.

Conte has a whole series of reports on this stuff here.

“People are interested to harvest as much information they can from photos and videos… to connect with other people,” Hirsch said of his own in our interview. “It’s just another platform to connect with other people.”

To some, that’s what the technology, in general, has to offer users of a device like Google Glass. Others, however, are concerned that not everyone with access to the technology will have people’s best interests in mind.

It’s going to be quite interesting to see how Google handles these concerns. It’s been in trouble for privacy-related issus more than once in the past, and still has to answer to Congress. And this is really only one of the concerns they have (there were about ten in the letter).

Meanwhile, others are more concerned about devices like Glass for different reasons entirely, including how oblivious they could make people to what else is going on around them, and the implications they could have for traffic safety.

Google Glass is currently only available to a select few. Consumers should be able to get their hands (and eyes) on the device in another year or so.

Should Google allow developers to offer facial recognition capabilities on Google Glass? Should Google implement its own? Let us know what you think.

Image: Lambda Labs


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.