Privacy authorities issue Google a 'please explain' on Glass

Privacy authorities issue Google a 'please explain' on Glass

Summary: Ten privacy authorities from countries including Australia, Canada, and Israel have sent a joint letter to Google asking the company to address privacy concerns over Google Glass.

TOPICS: Google, Privacy

In a letter addressed to Google CEO Larry Page, 10 privacy authorities from across the globe have asked Google a series of questions to address ongoing privacy concerns over Google Glass.

(Image: ZDNet)

The US$1,500 wearable device is not even in the market yet, but it has already attracted criticism that the camera included in the device will lead to invasions of privacy for anyone around a person who is wearing Google Glass.

While Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard got an up-close look at Google Glass earlier this year, outspoken South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi labelled Google Glass as "the end of privacy".

In April, Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim requested a briefing with Google on the device, and today he, and nine of his colleagues from Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Mexico, and Switzerland, among others, have written to Page asking for detailed information on Google Glass, stating that their knowledge on it comes "from media reports, which contain a great deal of speculation".

The commissioners state in the letter that Google has not approached them to discuss the associated ethical issues with Google Glass while the product is in early testing stages with developers.

They have asked Google eight questions around the associated privacy issues, including asking Google to explain how Glass complies with data protection laws, what the privacy safeguards are, what information Google collects through Glass, who that information is shared with, and whether Google has undertaken a privacy risk assessment.

Finally, the authorities again asked for a demonstration of the device, and for the ability to test it for themselves.

"We are aware that these questions relate to issues that fall squarely within our purview as data protection commissioners, as well as to other broader, ethical issues that arise from wearable computing," they said. "Nevertheless, we feel it is important for us to raise all of these concerns.

"We would be very interested in hearing about the privacy implications of this new product, and the steps you are taking to ensure that as you move forward with Google Glass, individuals' privacy rights are respected around the world."

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said it is still early days in testing Glass and the ethical issues it brings.

"It's very early days, and we are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass, because new technology always raises new issues," he said. "Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology."

At the time of writing, Pilgrim's office had not responded to a series of questions around whether he has been able to meet with Google to discuss concerns about Google Glass.

Topics: Google, Privacy


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Well, it's not surprising...

    Glass was invented in a country with no express right to privacy in their constitution.

    Canada does have it and we even have an independent governmental agency to monitor the government and private sector group to make sure they comply.

    They're also checking CSIS and the RCMP to make sure Canadian's privacy rights aren't being breached by PRISM.
    • Are you referring to Section 8 of the charter?

      And how is this any different than 4th amendment?
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  • It is surprising..

    I've never heard the privacy commissioners write letters to spy equipment manufacturers like this before. Every time a new gadget comes along are they doing that and insisting on a demo? Not a chance. Why Google Glass? Perhaps because it's been in the news for over a year now and people have raised the issue of privacy in the context of this device. However it's not the device, but how it's used that dictates the level of privacy breaches or not. I recall when mobile phones with cameras were banned from dressing rooms. I don't think that is the case anymore.
    • Because this is Microsoft ZDNet.

      simmi asked: "Why Google Glass?"

      Because this is Microsoft ZDNet.
    • It's Not the Same

      Google Glass is capable of taking photos/video without the wearer's knowledge, such as the user being near a certain location.
  • We already have cameras on everyone..

    Virtually every single person is carrying around a cell phone. Which is capable of video, recording & gathering data. How is this much different?
    • Because it's on all the time

      Streaming video being uploaded to the servers.

      With a phone, you have to lift it up with your arms for only short periods and look obvious.
    • Frenz9

      People don't walk into a restroom holding their smartphones in a manner that suggests they are about to take a photograph. With Google Glass, a photo can be taken anytime, anywhere without anyone knowing. Especially if the rumor is true that Google, itself, can initiate photos such as in the "recognize friends by their wardrobe" feature that was talked about. My smartphone is in a pocket with the lens not being visable or exposed.
  • lets see

    Google is a info broker and the government has access. you are basically spying for the government when you use these . I think other governments should be concerned and so should you.
  • Google and evil

    Google's motto of do no evil lets them assume they know what is evil and what is not. How arrogant are they that they think they get to define it? I happen to think that creation of a device like Google Glass, which make it so easy to invade the privacy of others is evil. They obviously don't. Google the eviler empire.
    • so no new innovation then?

      So nobody would want a cell phone that is built into a headset then? or a HUD that can provide you day to day when you need it by voice command?

      you people are crazy.. without companies like Google we'd have no smartphones, you'd still be using IE6 there would be no new amazing tech.

      All this is, is an android phone in a headset... that's it.

      I can pay 30 dollars to buy a HD camera from kogan that is in some sunnies, or a pen.. or a flower.. and that is fine, but paying hundreds to buy a dead obvious google glass is somehow much worse?

      And for the record the government is being legally challanged by google about them being allowed to reveal their legal disclosures.

      This must be Microsoft zdnet where you attack a company that spent millions giving away a good next gen video codec for free (licenses for other players and all) and putting balloons over poor areas so they can get the Internet too. and you idolize a company that has been twice convicted of predatory monopoly practices. remember, every antitrust issue that Microsoft has proxy pushed against Google has been dropped almost completely so far. remember that before you accept Microsoft propaganda.
      • Sorry, Frankish

        Google never invented a smartphone. The problem with Glass is that it is always taking photos without the need for the user to do anything. And smartphones don't take pictures if the lens is covered by your pocket. It becomes obvious if someone is taking your photo with a smartphone. Not so with a camera with the lens permanently connected to your eye.
  • In case of arrest,

    would the police tear it off your face and smash it on the ground before beating you up, so there would be no record of their malfeasance? If you are not guilty of a crime, could you sue them for damages?
  • This conversation is useless because Google doesn't care about ....

    anyone's privacy, and there are no laws that can be enforced in order to stop them. They are not the ones operating Glass - they merely provide them. One of the unfortunate loopholes in current law. Google is in business to make money. Period. I'm not saying it is right ( it isn't), but they never have, nor will they ever care about anyone's opinion or rights. "Eviler Empire"? Yep. The issue vs camera phones, etc.? The key word is "clandestine". With other types of cameras, you will know you are being recorded. With Glass and Cyclops Gear (not as well known, but already on the market and equally intrusive), you are not aware of the intrusion. Unless these forms of recording are outlawed (highly unlikely), privacy is an illusion. I absolutely hate it, but I have to get over it.
  • Concerns over privacy might be greatly exaggerated

    One of my co-workers just got his Google Glass. The glass is effectively a prism, and it works both ways. When the device is on, anyone in front of it can see a tiny image that essentially acts as an LED. More importantly, if the individual is going to do video, or pictures, the individual has to speak a command or touch the side of the device; both actions are quite obvious to anyone within recognizable range.

    I must say, I too had concerns regarding privacy, but after seeing the device in action, and getting a chance to play with it, my concerns are no greater than seeing people with cell phones.

    The device is pretty cool and has the distinct possibility of being a game changer. It has some quirks though, such as being difficult to wear for those with prescription glasses, for those who are left-eye dominant, poor voice quality when making calls, battery life, the need to have a nearby hot-spot, etc. I see it as being in a prototype phase and so we'll have to wait to see what happens in another year or two. And obviously, the price needs to come way down.
    • It May Not Be That Way

      One of the proposed would be the automatic recognition of "friends" by their wardrobe. That means, the camera would be on all of the time, not only when the user says" take a photograph". It is also rumored that the phone will automatically take photos near certain locations. It does not sound like the wearer is totally in control. Also, do you know if the wearer is taking a photo of you or just looking at you?

      I can see this being used as a "Street View Maps" without the need for Google camera cars.

      So a good question is: will Google (or the police, etc.) be able to activate your camera remotely while you are wearing it. I'd like the answer to that. Wouldn't you?
      • It isn't that way yet

        Google Glass doesn't do that now, but it is in its infancy. How it may change tomorrow, or what other technologies it may inspire in the future remain to be seen. Privacy concerns in that sense are valid and the government needs to put the proper legal framework to protect us in the future, but to criticize the Glass now when it doesn't do what some claim, it is unfair, uniformed, and in some cases plain paranoid.
  • Head mounted UI and Sensors are Coming Soon

    Ready or not; by Google or not, heads are natures preferred location of sensors and sensory inputs necessary for exploiting opportunities or avoiding threats. Personal Remembrance Agents combined with Peripheral Awareness Agents will be connected to the web, everywhere users want to be. It's inevitable. If democracies want to learn how to deal with it, they better charter one or more FCRCs (Federaly Chartered Research Centers) per country to aid legislature's understanding and capability to favorably influence the direction of technology.
  • Sounds like these people

    just want a free Google Glass so they can be the first in their Country to own one.

    "Finally, the authorities again asked for a demonstration of the device, and for the ability to test it for themselves."