Google Glass is a Privacy Nightmare

Google_Glass_Facial_Recognition

Hear me out, before you nerd out and get all defensive about Google Glass.

Are you ok with government installing cameras everywhere in major cities of the world? Initially most of you probably had serious problem with this, but eventually you have come to accept a world where you are on camera 24/7 wherever you go and whatever you do.

You also probably don’t mind people taking pictures in public with their phone, as long as the camera is not directly pointed at you or the person is not in your face like this guy:

If I did the same thing but wearing a cool gadget like Google Glass, would you have a problem with it? Its something to think about. If a complete stranger holds a camera to your face you know what he is doing and you have a legitimate reason to tell him to stop doing it, most of you will probably object to it. Not if the same person wears a Google Glass, which is essentially a smart camera powered shades (among other things), that will be in your face without you knowing that its recording you. I am guessing here, I don’t know if it has an indicator and the person you are talking can tell that she is being recorded.

We don’t know much about the software capabilities of google glass yet, because it’s still a work in progress. But we know certain things that google is capable of right now that can be and probably will be integrated to Google Glass:

  • Google image search has the capability to do reverse image search doing facial recognition. Also Google Googles.Google Glass.
  • Google+, a steadily growing social community, has face tagging capability to help identify individual.
  • Once you reverse image search a person’s face, depending on how much information that person shares online, googling his/her name, what he does and where he works is a trivial work.

You might argue that a person who makes it relatively easy to search for her information online probably don’t care much about sharing it. It’s similar to what former Google CEO Eric said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” The truth of the matter is, if you are not computer savvy, you don’t know or understand the implication of sharing your information online. That would be overwhelming majority of the people online.

I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.

- Eric Schmidt

 

Now imagine a hypothetical scenario, a guy sitting in a restaurant is interested in a cute girl sitting couple of tables away, he quietly takes a snapshot of her using Google Glass. Does a reverse image search of her, finds her name and where she works and follows her on social media sites. All this without her knowledge, within minutes. I don’t know about you, but I find it creepy. The geek part of me is really impressed with the technology and how much you can do in such a short time, but I am very much concerned about the privacy implications of this.

Now imagine in 2-3 years more and more people around you is wearing a Google Glass device and with the third or fourth generation the technology has been refined to the point that it can be integrated to regular looking shades without you having to know the difference.

Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.

- Eric Schmidt

 

At least with the government camera surveillance program you know that you are being constantly monitored, but with google glass, there will come a point where you won’t even know that you are being constantly monitored, recorded and the person you just walked passed in the park knows everything there is to know about you (that’s available online).

Are you OK with this?

In a non Google Glass world a person has to actively go out of his way to get a shot of you with his phone camera and with a little luck (assuming he got a clear shot of your face) he can still get the same information about you right now. But this requires that person to do it in such a way that he will most likely get your attention when he tries to take your picture. With Google Glass, the process will be many times easier and seamless. But I am making the assumption that a user has to actively look up your information, what if in the final version of the software google implements this as a feature? Or if an app ecosystem is allowed, a third-party can easily implement this feature.

Can you have Google Glass that can address privacy concerns?

I personally thing Google Glass is an awesome idea, if done right. If we can put aside the privacy concerns, the possibilities are endless. Think of Google Goggles for android but on Google Glass. I think to address the privacy concerns, Google could require a hardware button on the side of the Glass which you have to click in order to take picture or additionally a LED light indicating picture/video recording mode. It doesn’t really solve all the problem, but it does handle some of it.

I haven’t even touched the implications of a profit seeking, data-mining, primarily an advertising company will do with all the personal experience information they will gather from Google Glass users. Personally, I think Google balances itself better as a company in privacy issues. But the concern is still there, just because a company has been historically better, doesn’t mean it will always look out for the best interest of its users.





Feel free to follow us on Facebook and Twitter or just subscribe to our RSS feed.



  • SingleShotScreenName

    A nice corrective experiment to this intellectually limp fearmongering: Save a copy of your facebook profile picture, and those of a couple of your friends, to your computer. Then google reverse image search the pictures. While my sample size is admittedly small, way more often than not the image searches came up with unrelated pictures.

    This is searching with a copy of a picture that is attached to a person’s online presence. I can’t overstate this enough – google is bad at finding exact copies of profile pictures. I also chose pictures that were portrait style – the subject looking into the camera, so ideally the image-search is able to comprehensively examine their face. Whatever parameters image-search is using to find matches, it isn’t good examining the specifics of facial structure. I even tried cropping larger images to just the person’s head and shoulders, in an effort to reduce the search’s analysis of irrelevant colors and shapes in the background – not any better.

    In these perfect conditions, google image search sucks at finding people based on pictures. I’m sure the surreptitiously snapped shot of the hypothetical Starbucks girl is going to oh-so-easily match up to her facebook and google+ profiles.

    • Anonymous

      That is now, do the same experiment one year from now, two years from now, or even 5 years from now when these glasses are going to be more common. The improvements in searching technology has drastically improved over the past couple years and it will continue to improve.

      I’ve used Picasa for the desktop and played around with the facial recognition. After it has one or two source pictures it has a surprisingly accurate recognition on additional pictures. There are mistakes for sure but it works better than I expected.

      It isn’t fear mongering. It’s something that hasn’t been addressed in regards to Google Glass. Your main argument has no merit after the algorithm is improved. “It’s hard to do now” doesn’t mean it will always be hard and doesn’t address the direct issue here which is privacy.

space invader