Congress demands answers from Google over Glass privacy concerns

Congress demands answers from Google over Glass privacy concerns

Summary: Members of Congress have highlighted privacy concerns over Google Glass and the possible misuse of information.

Credit: Rachel King/ZDNet

A group of Congress members have sent a letter to Google seeking answers to privacy and data concerns caused by Google Glass.

The letter (.pdf), addressed to CEO Larry Page, was sent by eight members of Congress led by U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, Texas. The members of the Congressional bipartisan Privacy Caucus say they are concerned about possible misuse of information gathered by Google's new product, and whether Google Glass will "infringe on the privacy of the average American."

The headset, which is able to record video footage and take photos based on voice commands, has already been jailbroken within the developer phase. Modified enough, Glass could be used to innocuously record everything around you without any indicative behaviour or phrases.

See alsoExploring Google Glass: A fitting appointment, step-by-step (slideshow)

The letter's delivery comes as the tech giant holds its annual developer conference, Google I/O in San Francisco. Developers -- and those who have paid $1500 for the prototype -- are currently being tutored on how to develop apps for Google Glass, and the Glass Explorer program is designed to create the application ecosystem before the product's official launch sometime next year.

The Congress members ask whether the product will use facial recognition technology to unveil personal information about others or objects, and whether data could be collected without the consent of others -- and if Google plans to prevent this in some way. In addition, the letter cites a case in 2010 where the tech giant was collecting information from unsecured wireless networks across the globe, which resulted in Google paying out $7 million in damages. The letter acknowledges this situation was rectified, but asks how Google plans to ensure Google Glass will not unintentionally collect data from either the user or non-users without permission.

Other concerns raised include whether the new product -- when launched -- will prove to be a catalyst for the tech giant to make additional changes within its privacy policies, and if Google Glass will both collect and store data on the device itself. If information is stored, the Congress members wish to know whether security measures will be put in place to safeguard stored data.

Additional signatories of the letter include Representatives John Barrow, Steve Chabot, Henry C. Johnson Jr., Walter Jones, Richard Nugent, Bobby Rush and Loretta Sanchez. Answers have been requested by June 14. The Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus is focused on investigating the data and privacy implications and practices of large organizations and corporations, including Google, Amazon, Apple and the Social Security Administration.

Topics: Google, Emerging Tech, Government US

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  • Well, this confirms it, Congress is a bunch of total clueless idiots

    Lets see... cameras have been around for a hundred years... video cameras for about 70... digital cameras for about 40... spy satelites for about... oh I don't know... cell phone cameras for about 30... and cell phone video cameras for at least 20.... not to mention web cameras, news cameras, store surveiliance cameras, atm cameras, security cameras, highway cameras, cameras on pig cop cars....

    So how is mounting a camera on a pair of sunglasses any more invasive than the billions of cameras already out there...

    Its like, they are effing retards.
    Cobra Choppergirl
    • I couldn't agree more!

      The subject line says it all.
    • Re: oh I don't know.

      Exactly! You don't.
    • Check your dates

      I'm not disagreeing that congress and be underachieving, but your argument is really debased by your lack of knowledge around the timelines.

      The first publicly available cell phone with a built in camera wasn't on the market until 2002. So they haven't been around for 30 years. Video cameras would be even less. The first iPhone only came out in 2007.
    • Well, not exactly. Maybe the opposite.

      Well here we go.
      Who’s ready for “I told you so”?

      Any takers? Anyone Anyone?? Bueller maybe…?

      Look, I told people and told them and told them and told them and told them AND TOLD THEM.

      I told them the public will without any doubt be concerned about privacy and safety issues.

      Now there were clearly some here who could understand that large portions of the public would be concerned about Google goggles and privacy, they said so. But alas, we seem to have a significant contingent around here who see someone voice clear common sense observations about what would be obvious concerns about such a product “by the public at large” and they simply translate that into the person making such comments and observations as the person actually saying “I hate the product and its horrible and will hurt us all”. I Tried and tried and tried to explain that I had never said any such thing, I was just pointing out the public could EASILY imagine all kinds of incidents that could unfold with Google goggles out and about by the thousands that could disturb privacy concerns of people out and about in the public, minding their own business being worried they may end up on Youtube far far easier than ever in history before.

      But no, the obtuse gang here would not hear any of that logical thinking. It may seem retarded that when you tell someone that “common sense tells us the public will generally have these well known thoughts about issue ‘X’…” that shooting the messenger and telling him you don’t know why he hates the idea of this product so much and he dosnt seem to understand the public already gets recorded plenty was the response, but that’s exactly the response, along with similar commentary that was and still is actually URESPONSIVE to the actual point made. Lets go through this debacle just a little.

      Here was the kind of thing I predicted and said:

      The public will be really concerned about Google glass because they will be worried that they could be crossing paths with dozens, if not hundreds or more eventually every time they go out, of people wearing Google Glass who have them right on their face, pointed right at you, ready to shoot pictures or videos a moment’s notice. The public will be worried all the time, that now more possible then ever, they may end up on Youtube slipping on a banana peel, that where some stranger following you and your child with a smartphone cam pointed at you would be weird and raise a red flag today, the same scenario with Google Glass would have to be considered as common place and you would just have to live with it. We already know many people don’t want to be in your random pictures. Social psychology has told us for years that various elements of concerns about the big brother effects from Google Glass will be on the minds of the public and be of a real and genuine concern for the public at large because of so many largely unaccountable strangers wandering the streets with cameras focused on everything we do in public.


      What kind of responses did I get? Like this:

      1. You don’t get it, we already get recorded all the time while in public.

      2. You don’t get it, Google glass has a very limited amount of recording time available to it.

      3. You don’t get it, whos going to be following you around trying to catch you slipping on a banana peel?

      4. You don’t get it, there are even better ways to spy on people than Google Glass

      5. You don’t get it, if a pervert wants to take pics of your kids hes not going to use something so obvious as Google glass.

      6. You don’t get it, this is a product of progress.

      7. You don’t get it, why do you hate Google Glass?

      Unfortunately all these comments are largely what is referred to as being “unresponsive” to my point because my point wasn’t that I had these personal terrors about Google goggles, my point was always clear, and still is, “this is what the PUBLIC response to Google Glass will be”. Not me, not my personal worry, my point clearly was that the public is going to get concerned for a whole pile of reasons.

      Secondly, many of the responses are just plain lousy from a logical standpoint.

      Response #1, so what if we already get recorded in the public all the time. The location numbers are actually miniscule compared to the potential number of people that Google would like to see wearing Google goggles, and further, the vast majority of these recordings are done from ‘fixed locations’ belonging to businesses and organizations that could be held accountable quite easily if the captured images or video is misused.

      Response #2, so what? Really. So frigging what? So video recording time is like 20 minutes apparently. So that means that if we pass 100 people a day every day wearing Google goggles and finally after 2 years we slip on a banana peel and look up to see three people looking at us in Google goggles we can rest assured they didn’t just happen to catch us blundering in a pic or video because we all know the things have only 20 minutes of video recording time and that means its impossible to use catching me or you wiping out one day. Ya, I feel so much better and smarter now. FAIL.

      Response #3, see response number 2 and add, “golly gee, I sure am glad those 3 people now looking at me on the ground who are wearing Google goggles couldn’t have been following me around because ONLY people who follow me around are allowed to take video and photos of me”. Point 3 sounds like it was written by a complete brain dead idiot who is simply making excuses as to why nobody will record you with Google goggles. Such an incredible FAIL.

      Response 4 and 5, again, its just poorly thought out. If Google goggles did become the norm, it’s a well known fact that being able to “hide in plain sight” is one of the best ways to evade detection. If Google goggles are the norm and you are using them to spy on someone, well, catching you with the actual Google goggles would mean nothing, catching you with any other spy gear would mean spying. Point 4 and 5 is just plain bad thinking.

      Response 6 and 7. Simply not responsive to the real issue at all. And that issue is, the public will be concerned.
      So…contrary to “Congress is a bunch of total clueless idiots”, its more likely Congress is simply recognizing the issue that I stated will, and as it turns out DOES exist, and that is, the public is concerned.
      The fact is, its actually a whole pile of brain dead idiot posters around here who are clueless and apologists who need to cool their jets and take a reality pill before posting here in the future.
      • One response is missing...

        While I agree with your statement you missed one rather glaringly obvious response.

        "Laws are already on the books to cover photographing or video recording without permission."

        As we already have video recording devices in other small handheld personal devices I can't see that wearing them would be any more illegal. That is unless Congress wants to somehow take every cell phone and video camera out of public use. The technology has been there for too long to have them complain now.
        John K Jones
        • I agree completely. And the point is .....BUT;

          Therein lies the big potential problem the public is probably most worried about. Many organizations and businesses can easily be held accountable for misuse of video or pictures, and know they can and they know why and have controls in place to make sure they dont end up in court over improper use of recordings.

          On the other hand, what people dont like the thought of are multitudes of people wandering around a city and recording at random and possibly using some video or pic irresponsibly or illegally, either on purpose or simply due to lack of awareness of the law.

          Either way, its a concern when there would be SO MANY potential opportunities for things to go sideways if thousands were using these things.

          The fact there are laws in place is of cold comfort when the opportunity to break them multiplies by numerous times, and the ease of holding particular perpetrators accountable gets murky or even impossible in certain circumstances.

          Its like saying there are laws against speeding, then suddenly over a couple years many thousands of Ferraris and Lamborghinis suddenly show up on the streets without licence plates. The odds the laws against speeding will be adhered to similarly as they were in the past suddenly plummets.

          So one more response that isn’t actually responsive to the point to the question at issue, and that is will the public be worried by Google goggles. The question is, will they or will they not. I see no possible way there answer could be no, they will not be. It must be yes the public will have concerns. “Laws are already on the books to cover photographing or video recording without permission” is not a response to the question “Will the public be concerned”?

          “Laws are already on the books to cover photographing or video recording without permission” is a potential answer to the question, “Why should the public not worry”. But its not a good answer at all, even to that question as we should be able to see, because the laws are not going to work any better for Google goggles taking pics and video without permission then they have for copyright when it comes to file sharing.

          Will they be illegal to wear? Boy! That one is a real question isnt it!! I never even thought of that one! I think it would be a real shame to see them outlawed. But I suspect there will be some regulation.

          Finally, explain this one to me if you will, why, why at all would one even care to wear them in public, you know, just around the street, if there are already laws that are already on the books to cover photographing or video recording without permission, when they make you look like a gorp, and there are apparently these “laws on the books” that I gather say you cant photo people without permission and then use the pics? Why do you even need to wear these things around then, at least with anything much of a thought about taking video or pics in public? I mean, people are everywhere right?

          The full dynamics of the ENTIRE situation have to be thought through.
  • Congress - Misinformed As Usual

    I don't understand why members of Congress, or anyone else for that matter, are getting so worked up about the "privacy issues" with Google Glass. Security companies have been putting hidden cameras in glasses, along with a myriad of other innocuous looking items, for well over a decade. I believe the only reason we haven't heard public outcries against these devices is because they are not "mainstream" enough. But the concept of putting a camera in a pair of glasses is nothing new. Furthermore, unlike the aforementioned devices, Google Glass is not trying to hide the fact that it can take pictures.
    • bs

      but they didn't try to make them "cool" and accepted in widespread usage... which is what google is trying to do.
    • You are surely as brain dead as they come.

      You bring up a point, while true, has nothing even close whatso ever to the kind of public environment a publicly, broadly available product like Google goggles could become.

      You miss the potential problems and concerns on so many obvious different levels its clear you simply WANT this product and as such have not really put your mind to potential problems at all.

      Your comments about spys is so off the mark about the kind of problems Google goggles would create you are now speaking like an appologist as opposed to someone has even really thought even a bit about the real world changes in society we would eventually be experiencing if Google goggles became a significant part of society with hundreds or thousands of people running around with these things on.

      You need to STOP being an appoligist for a product you clearly simply like the thought of owning and instead think about what kind of a society you really want to live in, and what kind of society that would in actuality really be like if the streets were in fact teaming with products like Google goggles 10 years from now.

      It would be a completely different world. It would be the kind of world spoke of in science fiction novels where all is no longer right with humanity I can tell you that.
    • yes but...

      While it is true there are many other ways to record people covertly they are in many cases illegal. The problem with Googles is the possibility of a certain segment of society accepting and using them in an illegal manner because they think ability to do something makes it ok to do it. The ability to do something is never justification. For example many states prohibit the audio recording of someone, even in public places, with out their permission. While I am not a fan of government, accept as designated the the Constitution, the questions Congress asked are reasonable and should pose no problem to Google if they have considered the issues of privacy invasion while designing this product.
      • This is the same argument

        As the NRA uses regarding gun control. So, by applying your theory, you should be against gun control.

        The genie is out of the bag and unless Congress outlaws them except for government use or requires some kind of licensing I can see their real concern is the ability be able to tap into them to monitor them (read wiretap) without the need for a warrant, not allowing car drivers for use them for safety, whether the recorded information may be admissible in court, etc. When government raises privacy issues it usually ends really meaning how can privacy be limited so there is no expectation thereof when it comes to the government.
        • Gun Control

          I was asked once, officially since I was representing our Polide Dept. At the time, what my view on gun control was. My reply was; the best way to control a gun is to take a breath, let half if it out while you focus on the guns sights and your intended target, hold your breath and squeaze the trigger unless you have hd training in instinctive shooting in which case the sights are not relevent. I still feel that is the best way to control a gun. As for the government controlling guns or gun ownership I will again agree with the US Constitution. Without the Declaration of Indepenence, Constitution and Bill of Rights America would have become a place people like Hitler would have found admirable.
  • Better stay awayfrom Google

    Good that they brought this up. Google is the harbinger of all evil in the internet. Creating cool products but lame whose only 2 main targets are - those who are gullible and one who can be a mush-minded zombie that can be easily controlled to defend them. For sure this lame product iwill do more harm than good. Witness the booming of piracy industry and the mushrooming of candid websites sportng butts and scandals. It's not only personal privacy as usual the concern here but the privacy of others as well.
    • Shame it can't improve literacy

      Little Old Man
    • Glass is another "set of eyes"... look into your private business and sell your data and feed you ads. Eventually glass will see you walking into Starbucks, recognize the sign, then you'll start getting coffee ads. It's just another method to track your browsing, your email content, the games you play, the places you go, the food you eat.

      Google has more info on you than the FBI does. I would argue the FBI works with Google when they need info on a person. Within minutes, good ol' Google can produce a dossier on you and a fairly accurate profile.

      Do you remember when Google said "don't be evil" ??? What happened to those guys?
  • Irony much?

    The US Government, feigning concern over the privacy of its citizens.

    The same government that allowed The Patriot Act? The same one that allows warrantless wiretaps? The same one that is building a data-gathering facility with storage greater than all known knowledge?

    Truly rich.
    Jay Wayne
    • Ya, fantasic point.

      It would be such a better world to give everyone a set of spy goggles.

      Same kind of thinking that goes into the thought process that says the cure to keeping grade school kids from getting shot by intruders into a school is best served by giving all the kiddies a loaded uzi each.

      These arguments I see people making are not cutting it at all today.

      I guess when you see something you think would be COOL for you to OWN, its "damn the world, I want me one of them things so everyone who thinks it may not be such a good idea can go ....." well, you know.
      • It's not the glasses, it's the information

        The technology of taking video with your glasses isn't what you are concerned about. It's the concern that "big brother" is going to merge personal data with what you are viewing. I can see where you are going with this. But the end result isn't quite all that it's cracked up to be.

        Merging data with facial recognition and location isn't something that the average personal device can do. Mainly because you don't have access to that level of data. Yes, data collection with Google is getting rather large, but all of this data is also public knowledge. What you are scared about is the future and the "what ifs" that might come from it. I personally don't think Google Glasses will be a big privacy concern or create a drastic invasion into people's lives. Mostly because facial recognition data isn't publicly available and private information is still protected. So the most you are going to see is what you already can get off the internet already, but on your glasses hands-free.
        John K Jones
        • Average Personal Device

          My el cheopo digital camera came with facial recognition software - as they do on facebook. Which is why you should wear a hoody and sunglasses 24/7 along with your regular gloves, 357 Magnum and GPS... or just don't do crime - whatever suits your lifestyle.