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Lawmakers Ask for Clarity on Google Glass and Privacy

Lawmakers Ask for Clarity on Google Glass and Privacy

Google Glass isn't officially available to all consumers yet, and it's already drawing concerns from Congress. They've sent a letter to Google asking about privacy issues for those wearing the glasses, and those who will be on the receiving end of a Glass-wearer's gaze. Google may answer the questions -- or it could wait until a Congressional subpoena arrives in the mail.

By Erika Morphy
May 17, 2013 11:45 AM PT

Eight members of Congress have sent a letter to Google asking about the privacy implications of Google Glass.

The letter was sent from Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and seven other lawmakers from the bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus. It asks Google whether users will be able to opt in to various proposed scenarios. They ask, for example, whether users will be able to consent if Google collects device-specific information from Glass.

The lawmakers are also concerned about non-user privacy -- that is, the people whose images might be captured by Google Glass's camera. They ask how, or if, someone can opt out of facial recognition technology if it will be a feature of Glass.

"We are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American," the letter said. "Because Google Glass has not yet been released and we are uncertain of Google's plans to incorporate privacy protections into the device, there are still a number of unanswered questions."

Brewing Concerns

Concerns have been growing about the potential privacy pitfalls that await users, and those who would encounter those wearing Google Glass. The device has the ability to continuously snap photos and post them online.

Google also has noted it is experimenting with facial recognition, as the legislators noted in their letter, and eventually it can be assumed some version of Google Glass will be equipped with that technology as well.

That said, how much weight can one letter from Congress carry with Google? It is not as though a company executive will be answering the questions under oath in front of a Congressional committee.

That may be true, said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project. Nevertheless, the letter has tremendous significance, Simpson told TechNewsWorld.

"It shows that there are real concerns about the privacy implications of Google Glass." Google has demonstrated repeatedly it is a serial privacy violator, Simpson said, "which is why it is very important Congress members are shining a light on this."

For what it's worth, Google may not be able to provide much in the way of tangible information about its plans and intentions with its responses, he said. Eventually, Congress may have to subpoena the company to get the answers it needs.

"That is what finally happened with Eric Schmidt on antitrust issues." Getting to the bottom of what Google Glass means for privacy is just as important, if not more, Simpson said. "It is definitely a game-changer for privacy."

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