Texas Congressman Raps Glass for Lack of Privacy

Google Glass has generated a more or less steady stream of privacy criticisms and concerns since it was first announced, but the company’s latest effort to satisfy critics has apparently fallen short.

Specifically, Google’s recent response to a letter sent in May by eight members of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus drew further criticism this week from Rep. Joe Barton, R.-Texas.

“I am disappointed in the responses we received from Google,” Barton said. “There were questions that were not adequately answered and some not answered at all.

“Google Glass has the potential to change the way people communicate and interact,” Barton added. “When new technology like this is introduced that could change societal norms, I believe it is important that peoples rights be protected and vital that privacy is built into the device.”

Google did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

The company has, however, posted a new Google glass FAQ on its website.

‘Unanswered Questions’

The original query to Google touched on several questions, many of them relating to the matter of opt-in. As one example, the lawmakers wanted to know if users would be able to give or withhold consent for Google to collect device-specific information from Glass.

The privacy of non-users — that is, people who would be captured by Glass — was also a topic of inquiry.

“We are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American,” the letter said. “Because Google Glass has not yet been released and we are uncertain of Google’s plans to incorporate privacy protections into the device, there are still a number of unanswered questions.”

A ‘MyGlass’ App

In her response, Susan Molinari, Google’s vice president of public policy and communication, did give some specifics.

Users will have access to their own “MyGlass” site and MyGlass mobile application, for example, where they can monitor the status of their Glass, manage settings and so on, she explained.

Google is not including facial recognition in Glass “for several years,” Molinari added, and won’t be approving any such apps from third-party developers.

Google is also not planning on tweaking its privacy policy to include Glass, she pointed out.

‘Still Actively Working’

Technically, Molinari answered all of the questions put to Google. Barton’s discontent may have arisen from the fact that some of those answers referred to Glass’ “work in progress” status.

For instance, Molinari noted that Google is experimenting with a “lock” solution to determine what might work best for the flash memory capable of storing data.

Indeed, she launched into the answers to the questions with the disclaimer that Google is “still actively working on Glass, so the information provided here may change prior to our full consumer release of the product.”

No Retreat

Given the potential for privacy violations, few expect Congress to retreat on the matter.

“Google Glass makes it possible to record and post every encounter everywhere, so its deployment will intensify the debate,” Rich Hanley, associate professor and director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Congress will increasingly seek assurances from private companies that privacy is protected in some way,” Hanley added.

That said, however, Hanley isn’t exactly holding his breath.

Congress is “effectively powerless in the face of the relentless surge in technology that monitors our every action everywhere,” he pointed out

Fishing Expedition

Congress may recognize that as well, but it is sure to continue with its line of inquiry, David Johnson, principal of Strategic Vision, told the E-Commerce Times.

“If Barton is unhappy with Google’s responses and other Congress people are too, the next stages could be a formal inquiry or investigation,” he speculated.

In fact, that might have been what Congress was angling for all along, he said, since it would mean getting a Google executive in front of Congress to testify under oath.

Given recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities, such an inquiry could be particularly likely.

“I would not be surprised at all,” Johnson concluded, “if we see some kind of hearing with Google on the hot seat in the near future.”

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