Say Hello to Google Glass, and Goodbye to Privacy - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Say Hello to Google Glass, and Goodbye to Privacy

Say Hello to Google Glass, and Goodbye to Privacy

Google’s latest revolutionary invention, Google Glass, is set to hit the market starting this week.  The part-smartphone, part-mini-computer device looks like a pair of sunglasses, with a small glass box in the upper right-hand corner that will display information to a user without obstructing his line of vision.  Google Glass’s wearable technology and patented design displays information in a hands-free manner and users interacts with the product through voice commands, similar to the interaction users have with Siri, Apple’s leading lady on the innovative voice command front.  Some features that the product enables users to do are instantly document their day-to-day life, receive step by step real-time directions, track people they interact with using information and stats, conduct Google searches, take and share pictures, film videos, and translate on the go.  Although the product is incredibly new, Google has confirmed that after the initial test runs are through and the product enters the mass market, they will eventually work with sunglass retailers as well as retailers for prescription frames and lenses in order to afford everyone a uniquely tailored Google Glass experience.

In order to get their product out there, into the hands of Americans other than Google’s own employees who have been testing the product for a long while now, Google launched a campaign for their technology-loving followers.  Google’s #IfIHadGlass contest instructed U.S. residents to submit 50-word applications using either Twitter or Google Plus, explaining how they planned to use the new Google Glass technology.  At the end of the contest, Google awarded 8,000 lucky winners with their very own Google Glasses for only $1,500, and the opportunity to test drive some of the most incredible technology we have ever seen months before the product is publicly available.

To any person, technology buff or otherwise, this sounds absolutely amazing.  But it also sounds incredibly frightening.  Privacy debates have already arisen over the really-cool-but-kind-of-controversial product, and there are certainly more on the way.

Since the advent of the smart phone and instant media sharing, our privacy rights have certainly been minimized.  The ability for anybody to snap a photo in any public place has become an issue of growing concern for many, including professionals, celebrities, political figures, and otherwise.  But there are several additional dangerous components of Google Glass that seem to put our privacy interests at even greater risk.

First, there is the issue of simply being in someone’s frame of vision in order to be photographed or video recorded that places any passerby at the risk of having no idea whether or not they are on camera.  The lack of notice seems to be a disturbing privacy concern for legal analysts who have already been tuned into the Google Glass revolution for months.  Google has defended this concern by confirming that the purpose of the test market is to work out any potentially dangerous concerns, such as this one, before the product enters the mass market.  But it seems like this feature is fundamental to the ease and hands free nature of the device, almost ensuring that this problem will persist.  By this same token, a user may not even realize what kind of information they are capturing or recording, leading to the opportunity for copyright infringement, exposure of trade secret, and many other intellectual property related violations of privacy afforded by these protections.

Relatedly, the overly broad software with the ability to capture the users surroundings can be more dangerous than even its user realizes.  This is a potentially threatening aspect of Google Glass because it’s purpose is to capture more than the eye can see; more than you even realize that you see.  Because the Google Glass is set to always be “live,” some legal analysts have inquired into whether a user will actually turn off their Google Glass device when entering a PIN into an ATM machine, or provide their social security number to a medical practitioner.  Even documents like bills and credit card statements, and credit cards themselves, are placed in jeopardy when a user is wearing software that has the ability to capture every moment of your life.  Identity theft happens constantly in the United States; one swipe of the credit card at a hacked machine and your name can appear on the bill for all kinds of products you never purchased.  Google Glass exposes both users as well as parties in the line of vision of users to these fraudulent practices at a seemingly higher rate and with far greater ease.  With security flaws occurring in Smart Phones by the millions as recently as February, there is no sure fire guarantee that any information will be safe after the Google Glass software is hacked into, or even worse, stolen.

Finally, and perhaps the most dangerous component of the Google Glass with respect to privacy is the visual tracking and facial recognition feature.  What separates Google Glass from a regular smart phone is the conscious decision to actually use the features of a smartphone, while the Google Glass is meant to be live and operational on a constant basis.  By tracking the user’s eye movements and line of vision, the Google Glass is meant to suggest and request certain kinds of information.  Because of this kind of eye tracking, most of which is subconscious, Google Glass may actually have the ability to reveal information to the consumer that they never would have otherwise learned about themselves, such as environment triggers, attractions and decision making processes, because it is completely outside the scope of the user’s active thought process.  Equally as creepy is the facial recognition feature, which enables the Google Glass software to identify and track individuals who come into your line of vision, so long as they are also online.  Yes, this actually means that you can look at a person, and information about them can instantly pop up in your Google Glass vision.  This innovation may just have the ability to bring “stalking” to a brand new level.

Although we can’t say for sure what Google Glass will do for our society, it certainly may be off to an uncertain start.  Despite the incredible and revolutionary technology that Google purports to set forth, a big step in technological advancement must always come with a bit of reluctant hesitation.

Amanda Fachler