Emerging Tech

Safety, Privacy Issues Temper Google Glass Coolness

Google on Tuesday released the tech specifications for Google Glass, which will sport 720p resolution for the eyeware’s video camera and 16 GB of onboard flash storage. The forthcoming availability of the Web-connected glasses, however, is also raising questions about health, safety and privacy.

The tech specs include the ability to capture 5 MP still camera images, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, audio through bone conductivity and an estimated days’ worth of battery power. Google also said the first batch of Glass Explorer units is shipping to 8,000 consumers and developers who paid US$1,500 each to be early adopters.

Those who wear Glass will be able to record everything they see. Strangers may view that feature as an invasion of their privacy. There are also issues like distracted driving and walking, and the impact of a heads-up display on a user’s vision.

It’s not often that a single tech product comes along which wraps up concerns about social norms, privacy and the user’s health, all in one neat package.

“We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass, because new technology always raises new issues,” Google spokesperson Jay Nancarrow told TechNewsWorld. “Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology, and we’re excited to hear the feedback.”

Through a Glass Darkly?

“Google Glass could be recording anything at any moment and you wouldn’t know it,” said Mike Santoro, president of Walker Sands Communications, who will be among the 8,000 participants in the Glass Explorer program. “That freaks a lot of people out.”

That “could make us wary of each other,” said Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent . “If someone asks us for directions now, we’re happy to help; but, if [that person is] wearing Google Glass, I might be hesitant because they could be recording video of people giving bad directions to post to the Internet. It takes blooper shows to a whole new level.”

Concerns about the impact of Glass on privacy have already been raised, and some bars and restaurants have already made it clear they’ll ban patrons from wearing them.

“As someone who’s going to be wearing them shortly, I’m worried if anyone will talk to me while I have them on,” Santoro said. “Are they going to be [concerned that] the conversation will be recorded? Will they still speak honestly to me knowing that their comments might be able to get reviewed?”

On the other hand, Santoro brought up Monday’s explosions at the Boston Marathon. If some people in the crowd had been wearing Glass, more information might be available to law enforcement as it scours images and video recordings of the event for clues, he said.

Google Glass’s Impact on Health

Google Glass isn’t the only wearable communications device in the works. Telepathy One, invented by Takahito Iguchi, who came up with the augmented reality smartphone app Sekai Camera, was unveiled at SXSW Interactive in March. It can project information such as email and social network updates in front of users on a virtual 5-inch display, and is slated to hit the market later this year.

Wearable optical devices that connect to the Internet like Google Glass “have to be very well designed so that the virtual images are locked into the real world,” because otherwise they “could cause people to misjudge things in the real world, leading to accidents,” said James Sheedy, director of the Visual Performance Institute at Pacific University School of Optometry.

Such devices could also distract drivers, Sheedy told TechNewsWorld. “We faced this issue when people were wearing Walkman radios, and now cell phones and texting. I anticipate the same kind of issues with these glasses.”

The West Virginia Legislature is considering a bill that would ban wearable computers with head-mounted displays like Glass while driving, Santoro said.

More Data for Google

Data gathered by Glass will stream back to Google’s servers, giving the company more information about users that will augment what it gathers from other accounts. That collation has already led to Google locking horns with the EU, which contends it invades users’ privacy.

Google Glass will also impact online ads, turning marketing “into even more of a zero-sum game,” Lurie told TechNewsWorld. “There will be no more browsing the rankings. The top three results will own the entire topic.”

This might spur Google’s competitors in the online ad space, he added, to lodge complaints against the company.

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