Google Tries To Sell Government On Glass Privacy. Are You Sold?

Back in May, the bipartisan congressional Privacy Caucus sent an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page asking for clarification on Google Glass and the privacy issues that come with the device. In earl...
Google Tries To Sell Government On Glass Privacy. Are You Sold?
Written by Chris Crum
  • Back in May, the bipartisan congressional Privacy Caucus sent an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page asking for clarification on Google Glass and the privacy issues that come with the device. In early June, Google VP, Public Policy and Government Relations, Susan Molinari, sent a response letter.

    Do you have concerns about privacy when it comes to devices like Google Glass and other wearable technology? Let us know in the comments.

    Joe Barton, co-chairman of the Privacy Caucus, has now issued a statement about Google’s response, and shared Google’s letter in its entirety. Suffice it to say, he’s not exactly pleased with the company’s response.

    “I am disappointed in the responses we received from Google,” says Barton. “There were questions that were not adequately answered and some not answered at all. Google Glass has the potential to change the way people communicate and interact. When new technology like this is introduced that could change societal norms, I believe it is important that people’s rights be protected and vital that privacy is built into the device. I look forward to continuing a working relationship with Google as Google Glass develops.”

    Here are some highlights from Google’s response:

    “As we do for all our products, we are carefully reviewing the design of Glass for privacy considerations as part of Google’s comprehensive privacy program. This includes designing Glass with privacy in mind and ensuring Google has obtained appropriate consent from Glass users.

    “We have built Glass to put users in control. Users will have access to their own “MyGlass” site ( and MyGlass mobile application, which will give them a place to monitor the status of their Glass, manage settings, and decide which items or applications will appear on Glass.”

    “We have also built some social signals into the way Glass is used. These signals help people understand what users are doing, and give Glass users means for employing etiquette in any given situation. One important feature is that Glass requires user commands to take a photo or record video – actions that also cause the Glass screen to activate, which is visible to others. As you point out in your letter, some parties have already taken measures to address the use of existing technology – such as cell phones, laptops or cameras – in certain circumstances. We expect these types of rules to continue to evolve as more wearable technologies come to market.”

    “Our commitment to putting users in control extends to the policies we’ve created for developers making applications for Glas, also called Glassware. For example, Google has said for several years that we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time. We also prohibit developers from disabling or turning off the display when using the camera. The display must become active when taking a picture and stay active during a video recording as part of your application.”

    “While we ask participants in our Explorer program not to sell or transfer their Glass, users who someday transfer Glass to others will have options for removing their content from the device. Glass displays items like photos, videos, and text messages in a timeline, along with a ‘delete’ option to remove them from that timeline. The ‘delete’ function is one way to remove content from Glass. Also, the MyGlass site and app mentioned above will give users the ability to disable specific items (including Gmail, Google+ and Now) from Glass and to perform a factory reset, which will wipe all of their data from the device. Users who lose their Glass can likewise make use of these MyGlass site and app features.”

    Glass does have flash memory capable of storing data. This includes storage of information that assists with the operation of the device, such as software libraries and application information. The flash memory can also be used to store user content, such as photos and video, to ensure those moments are saved even when Glass does not have an Internet connection. We are experimenting with ‘lock’ solutions to determine what would work best for this type of device. In the event that a device is misplaced or somehow compromised, users can use their Google account to login to MyGlass and initiate a remote wipe of all data stored on Glass, as described above.”

    Google notes in the letter that Glass will be governed by the terms of its broad privacy policy (which took effect in early 2012), and not changes related to Glass are planned. This particular policy has already drawn the ire of some governments, and Google continues to face battles on that front to this day.

    Based on Barton’s response, it does not appear that Google has sold the Privacy Caucus on Glass privacy. Has the company’s response alleviated your concerns? Let us know in the comments.

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