You’ve seen Google Glass on the news, right? (Or “the Google glasses” as I keep calling them.) You’re to be forgiven if you haven’t seen them in person, since they don’t seem to be offically “out” yet and the only ones in circulation are being given to beta testers and gadget media reviewers. The “wearable computer” is supposed to be able to take pictures or video, upload them, and display information from Google and your favorite social media sites in a sort of heads up display while you’re walking around.
But the new technology is already attracting attention of the negative sort, reaching as far as Capitol Hill.
Eight members of Congress raised privacy fears about Google’s wearable computer, Google Glass, expressing concern the device could allow users to identify people on the street and look up personal information about them.
The lawmakers, members of the congressional Privacy Caucus, said they are concerned users could access individuals’ addresses, marital status, work history and hobbies.
“As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page.
Tech reviewers are weighing in with stories about people having their dinner companions “freaked out” by them or becoming unnerved in public restrooms by wearers. But I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around all of the controversy. The glasses are certainly smaller than previous devices, but they’re not exactly doing anything you couldn’t already do with your phones. There were already apps where users could use the camera in their cell phone tied in to Google Maps to access information about businesses wherever you’re standing, displaying names, reviews and features over the real time images. It seems like all Glass is doing is eliminating the need to hold up your phone.
Privacy is of concern to a lot of people, but it’s worth noting that your legal expectations of privacy decrease significantly once you step out your door and into the public square. I suppose the possibility of facial recognition software is a concern, but people can recognize you with their own eyes walking down the street. And private citizens couldn’t find all of that information the lawmakers are concerned about if you hadn’t already put it up on your Facebook page. If you don’t want people knowing anything about you, don’t publish it all over the web. If you don’t want people taking your picture, stay in your house. It’s really that simple.
As to the additional, totally valid concerns, it seems as if we already have laws covering these things. You do have a legal expectation of privacy in a public restroom or changing room at a store. If anyone is photographing you there without your consent, they’re already breaking the law. If they use images of you taken on the street for profit without compensating you, that’s illegal also. The only thing that’s really changed is the technology growing smaller. And that’s been happening as long as I can remember, with everything from clocks to radios to, well… computers. Is this really some dangerous new change?