Google Glass is a Privacy Nightmare

Published in: Google, Privacy

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

Are you ok with the government installing cameras everywhere in major cities of the world? Initially, most of you probably had a serious problem with this, but eventually, you have come to accept the 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? It’s something to think about. If a 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 it’s 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 into Google Glass:

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 the 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 a 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 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 are 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 assuming 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 think 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 to take a picture or add an LED light indicating picture/video recording mode. It doesn’t solve all the problems, 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. 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 lookout for the best interest of its users.

about | twitter | facebook | archive | rss