Google Glass fans warned: Don't forget about privacy

As Google's headset computer goes on sale in the UK, wearable tech enthusiasts get a reminder about the privacy implications.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director
Google Glass users have been warned about the privacy issues involved. Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

The UK's data protection watchdog has warned users of Google Glass and other wearable tech to be aware of the privacy issues involved.

Google Glass went on sale in the UK earlier this week for £1,000 and the Information Commissioner's Office, which said that wearable technology may well become as common as mobile phones, has set out how privacy rules affect such devices.

"As this technology develops, people will understandably have reservations about the increasing amounts of personal information that these products are capable of collecting and transmitting," Andrew Paterson, senior technology officer at the ICO, said in a blogpost — noting that some bars in the US have already banned Google Glass from their premises.

"Companies in the UK will now be considering their own response," he said.

Paterson said that, like any new technology, wearables must operate in compliance with the law, and in the UK this means ensuring these devices operate in line with the requirements of its Data Protection Act.

If you are using wearable technology for personal use — for example, recording video as you walk down the street — then you are unlikely to be breaching the Act because it includes an exemption for the collection of personal information for domestic purposes.

In contrast, organisations using wearables must process the information collected by such devices in compliance with the legislation. This includes: making sure that people are informed about how their details are being collected and used; only collecting information that is relevant, adequate and not excessive; and ensuring that any information that needs to be collected is kept securely and deleted once it's no longer required.

If wearables are being used to capture video or pictures, then organisations must address the issues raised in the ICO's CCTV Code of Practice.

Google's headset has polarised opinion to the extent that the company published an etiquette guide, which says users shouldn't "be creepy or rude, aka a 'Glasshole'."

It goes on: "In places where cellphone cameras aren't allowed, the same rules will apply to Glass. If you're asked to turn your phone off, turn Glass off as well. Breaking the rules or being rude will not get businesses excited about Glass and will ruin it for other Explorers."

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