Privacy authorities issue Google a 'please explain' on Glass

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.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

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.

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