Are Google Glass Privacy Concerns Overblown?
MAKE Magazine Web producer Jake Spurlock gives a demonstration of Google Glass at Maker Faire Bay Area on May 18, 2013, in San Mateo, Calif.
CREDIT: SPACE.com/Mike Wall
SAN MATEO, Calif. — The privacy worries swirling around Google's much-hyped new "Glass" wearable computer are exaggerated, says one prominent early adopter who has been using the product.
On Thursday (May 16), eight members of Congress asked Google co-founder Larry Page to clarify how the company will incorporate privacy safeguards into Google Glass, a camera-equipped, voice-activated device that users wear like eyeglasses.
But concerns about the potential intrusiveness of Glass, which has yet to be released to the public, could just as easily be applied to ordinary smartphones, argued MAKE Magazine Web producer Jake Spurlock. [5 Unsettling Uses for Google Glass]
"I wouldn't take pictures of people with my cellphone in a bathroom — that would be creepy," Spurlock said here Saturday (May 18) at Maker Faire Bay Area, a two-day festival that celebrates DIY science, engineering and technology. "And I think it's the same with the Google Glass."
Spurlock is one of 2,000 "Glass Explorers" who paid $1,500 to get his hands on the device before the rest of us can. He's been using Glass for about two weeks now and said the product is light and comfortable.
"It's just like wearing a pair of glasses," Spurlock said Saturday during a 30-minute presentation showing what Glass can do.
You have to look up to see the display, he added, so Glass doesn't interfere with normal vision. And the image is projected outward, so the effect is like seeing something at arm's length.
Glass responds to your voice. You can command the device to fetch the score of a ball game, help you navigate through traffic and record video, among other things.
Many of the privacy fears stem from the apparent ease with which Glass users can take photos and videos of other people. The eight congressmen also expressed concern that facial recognition technologycould allow wearers to dredge up personal information about anybody they set eyes on.
Google has done its best to tamp down such worries, saying that people like Spurlock will help the company work the kinks out of Glass before the product hits the shelves. And Google executives say facial recognition tech has not yet made its way into the device.
"We’ve consistently said that we won’t add new face recognition features to our services unless we have strong privacy protections in place," Steve Lee, director of product management for Google Glass, said in a statement, the New York Times reported Friday (May 17).
For his part, Spurlock said he hasn't heard anybody complain when he wears Glass out in public.
"The response that I've had has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "But I'm not saying that people haven't said something behind my back."