Morrison & Foerster on possible legal ramifications for Google Glass

Because not a day goes by that there isn't someone talking about Google's wearable computer.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor on

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.

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