Morrison & Foerster on possible legal ramifications for Google Glass

Morrison & Foerster on possible legal ramifications for Google Glass

Summary: Because not a day goes by that there isn't someone talking about Google's wearable computer.


Almost as soon as Google Glass was first unveiled in June 2012, observers fell into two camps. One would be the eager beavers, early adopters and just about anyone else completely entranced by the computerized headset.

The other group would have to be the skeptics and privacy watchdogs.

Obviously, there is some overlap here, and since the revelations about the NSA last year that sparked an ongoing heated debate about privacy, there are almost certainly more people in the latter camp now too.

Quite simply, the time to address the legality of Google Glass usage as to when, where, and how is here.

International law firm Morrison & Foerster has a considerable amount of expertise and experience in handling matters around patent and intellectual property (IP) rights, representing some of tech industry's titans.

Some of Morrison & Foerster's headline-grabbing cases as of late included representing Apple against Samsung over the Galaxy series (among other devices) as well as Oracle against Google over copyright and patent infringement allegations related to Android and Java.

Thus, Google Glass was at the top of the agenda in the San Francisco-headquartered agency's latest edition of Socially Aware, a publication focusing on trends and developments in social media law.

Putting IP and personal privacy at the forefront of the analysis, the attorneys drew comparisons between today's uproar and one that erupted during the late 19th century with the dawn of Kodak cameras. To some extent, such hostilities towards having pictures snapped in public still exist, although many of those legal questions have been answered in regards to traditional cameras.

DON'T MISS: Google Glass Corporate Policy template from Tech Pro Research

The problem with Glass, according to the report, stems from uncertainty about facial recognition technology. As cited in the article, Google has since said it would not condone third-party apps that include facial recognition. Still, that doesn't seem to have satisfied, or silenced, anyone:


Although banning facial recognition apps may address the second concern noted above, the first concern still stands because people being photographed by a Glass wearer, whether in a “zone of privacy” or in a public place in which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, simply might not even know it.

As Google prepares to push Glass from just the Explorer beta test program to consumers this year, the Internet giant is starting to face an uphill battle in answering questions and demands regarding privacy and safety from a number of different angles.

Just one is the feud about wearing Glass while driving, an issue that is coming up more and more in the United States and the United Kingdom. That issue was also address in the Morrison & Foerster report, although attorneys suggested that there could be positive results from wearing Glass while behind the wheel:

It is unclear whether a blanket legal ban on head-mounted displays is the best approach to maximize safety. Arguably, Glass may strike the right balance by providing drivers with the same information they would typically retrieve by glancing down at a GPS system — without making drivers look away from the road. Head-mounted systems like Glass could be also used as a sort of “warning system” that alerts drivers that they are, say, approaching the speed limit, again without having to look down at separate speedometers. On the other hand, any guidelines for when and how head-mounted displays like Glass can be used on the road would probably need to be both granular and flexible to accommodate what will undoubtedly be a rapidly evolving technology.

Moving on, the Mountain View, Calif.-based corporation is already on the bad side of the European Union and the governments of its respective members when it comes to privacy and data collection. Just look at the fine imposed by France this week. A little more than $200,000 might be pocket change for Google these days, but it's more about sending a message to Google (and other technology giants with gargantuan amounts of data on their hands) than anything else.

For further reading, the full report is available for free directly from Morrison & Foerster.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Legal, Privacy

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  • "...without making drivers look away from the road."

    WRONG. Having to look at a VERY small display on these things WILL require drivers to concentrate on the display...and NOT on the road.

    There is far too much of this sort of distracting electronic crap being put into cars these days. Cell phones have been bad enough of a distraction, but having Internet connections, and now this, will only lead to MORE distracted driving...not less.

    Keep this crap out of cars...and in Starbucks...where it belongs.
    • "Having to look at a VERY small display"

      Also wrong. It's hard to explain if you haven't actually used a HUD focused at infinity before, but you don't look *at* the display all... you look through it. Visualize it as decently sized, semi-transparent, monitor hanging out in your upper peripheral vision. Even though the display is physically small and close to your eye, that's not how it's perceived; the optics don't force you to shift focus, unlike looking at a windshield or dash-mounted GPS. Nor would it make you actually look away from the windshield.

      I'm not sure it'd be a great fit for driving on account of all the non-GPS uses which don't belong behind the wheel, but strictly as a display technology, it would be less less of a distraction than most GPS units on the market today.
  • Tell that to the pilots that do this every day...

    Head mounted displays are the rule in military use.

    It helps keep them safe, providing information they would have to change their focus on (from outside situation to inside the cockpit), and still maintain operation of the aircraft.

    Even automotive manufacturing have been experimenting with heads up displays - projecting them on the windshield:
    • experimenting?

      jesse, GM and Nissan both had production cars with HUD units in 1989, and they have been available nearly every year since. While you could say they are still experimenting, it is not like it is something new for cars in the US. I had one in the last Pontiac Grand Prix that I owned, and found it very useful having the speedometer displayed on the windshield. Other than critical warnings like tire pressure or low oil pressure, the rest of the displays seemed excessive and distracting.
    • Yes jesse, because there is so much bumper to bumper trafic in the sky.

      Why does everyone use aircraft heads ups display as the reason why this is a great idea for drivers on a road, like its the same thing?

      It's not like the pilots are flying their fighter on a paved route with 100 other vehicles, many a mere three feet away in any direction.

      Well, except for the Blue Angles, and I imagine they do so without a HUD, because of the distraction it may cause.
      • .... not like the pilots are flying their fighter on a paved route.....

        No, Willie, they are flying them at supersonic speeds, in heated "dog fights" with multiple other aircraft both friend and foe. The heads up display lets the pilot see all of the information about weaponry, threats, communications, and his flying without having to look at other displays in the cockpit. A heads ups display is an enhancement rather than a distraction.
        • Heads up info...

          A quick Google search (appropriate eh) turned up:

  • Everybody's talking?

    Google has a great PR department, because Glass isn't even a product after almost two years in beta. Talk and vaporware, while other companies bring similar products to market. Google is an advertising company, that has never had a "successful" hardware product.
    Gary Doan
    • ....never had a "successful" hardware product......

      Nexus phones and tablets are not successful? I guess we need to define "successful".
      • Nice try

        tietchen - Samsung ate their lunch and is the only company to make a profit on Android.
        Gary Doan
        • I guess we need to define "successful"....

          Again, Our definition of successful is key. The Nexus line may not have trounced everything else but certainly is a significant player in tablets and phones. In my world a device doesn't need to be the undisputed leader to be viable or "successful". There is room for lots of devices at many feature sets and price points to be "successful".

          Google may not be making much profit on Nexus sales but Asus surely is as the manufacturer. Maybe not as much as Samsung or Apple but they are a viable or "successful" line.
  • Fads

    These are mostly faddish until they overcome having to recharge batteries and dweebish looks, like the bluetooth earphone headset the "pros" had been speaking with in public all time when they came out - until everyone thought they were so obviously trying to compensate for something missing in their personas. The day I buy a smartwatch is the day it IS actually the cellphone, and not an accessory to one. Wearing google glasses? Yeah, right - just asking for social ostracism. Sports bands? The exercise machines I use all tell me how many calories, etc. are burned already.
    D.J. 43