Google will not add facial recognition capabilities to Google Glass until it can add appropriate privacy protections to the new technology, the company said in a post on Google+ late Friday.
“As Google has said for several years, we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place,” the post reads. “With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time.”
Consumers have been eyeing Google Glass with equal parts humor and concern. The technology has even been mocked on Saturday Night Live for its odd look and the less-than-subtle head jerking required to manipulate its interface.
Google Glass has also been pre-banned from at least one bar, based on privacy concerns. This ban — no doubt enacted at least in part for the publicity — was announced before Google made its decision about facial recognition technology. Whether the owner will lift the ban remains to be seen.
Still a Privacy Issue
There’s little doubt Google Glass still poses privacy issues; the additional possibility of facial recognition technology only turbocharged those concerns.
After all, Google Glass will connect to the Internet, allowing the user to post photos and videos online in near real-time. The scenario the bar owner reportedly feared — a person innocently enjoying a drink at a pub but then finding his or her photo plastered all over the Internet — is clearly possible.
While the beta product that has been making the rounds is fairly clear about what it’s doing, there’s little doubt the technology will eventually become more discreet.
‘Could Be the Killer App’
From a practical perspective, Google’s decision to keep facial recognition out of Google Glass means little, said Guido Lang, assistant professor of computer information systems at Quinnipiac University.
“Google can and will change its policy when it’s in its best interest to do so,” Lang told TechNewsWorld.
“Ultimately, Google will follow consumer demand,” he explained, “and let’s face it: Facial recognition could be the killer app for Glass.”
If anything, Google’s decision will encourage hackers to implement such features in apps for rooted versions of Glass, he added.
A Matter of Time
Still, leaving facial recognition out of the picture for now is a victory of sorts for privacy advocates, Bruno Scap, president of Galeas Consulting, told TechNewsWorld.
“It is true that Google Glass poses significant privacy concerns even without facial recognition,” Scap said. “However, facial recognition would allow it to cross-reference images with other sources where people already have pictures posted online. This could enable anyone to recognize people they know and don’t know.”
It is likely just a matter of time before facial recognition finds its way to Google Glass, suggested Scap.
Google wants everyone to start using Glass, he noted, and to that end it has been quick to comply with complaints about the technology to date.
“What this means is that once Google Glass is adopted by the masses, Google may allow features like facial recognition once again,” Scap warned.
If it does, there is a good chance that Congress will have some questions about the privacy safeguards Google referenced in its Friday post.
Last month, eight members of Congress from the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus queried Google about the technology’s privacy implications.
“We are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American,” reads the letter. “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.”