Global Privacy Watchdogs Quiz Google On Glass

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Letter asks what Google Glass does with personal data and what protections are in place

A host of privacy regulators from across the world have written to Google, asking about the privacy implications of its wearable Glass device.

Led by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the watchdogs have asked for concrete information on what Glass does and how it processes people’s personal data.

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“To date, what information we have about Google Glass, how it operates, how it could be used, and how Google might make use of the data collected via Glass largely comes from media reports, which contain a great deal of speculation, as well as Google’s own publicizing of the device,” the letter reads.

“We understand that other companies are developing similar products, but you are a leader in this area, the first to test your product ‘in the wild’ so to speak, and the first to confront the ethical issues that such a product entails. To date, however, most of the data protection authorities listed below have not been approached by your company to discuss any of these issues in detail.”

The letter posed the following questions:

  • How does Google Glass comply with data protection laws?

  • What are the privacy safeguards Google and application developers are putting in place?

  • What information does Google collect via Glass and what information is shared with third parties, including application developers?

  • How does Google intend to use this information?

  • While we understand that Google has decided not to include facial recognition in Glass, how does Google intend to address the specific issues around facial recognition in the future?

  • Is Google doing anything about the broader social and ethical issues raised by such a product, for example, the surreptitious collection of information about other individuals?

  • Has Google undertaken any privacy risk assessment the outcomes of which it would be willing to share?

  • Would Google be willing to demonstrate the device to our offices and allow any interested data protection authorities to test it?

The Article 29 Working Party, which consists of European watchdogs including the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), was one of the signatories. Officials from Canada, New Zealand, Israel and Switzerland also signed.

A spokesperson for the ICO told TechWeek it would wait to see what the response from the letter was before posing its own inquiries.

The glasses have caused a stir amongst privacy conscious groups, some suggesting Glass will democratise surveillance, opening up widespread surveillance through the machine’s video camera.

Others, such as tech blogger and Glass fanatic Robert Scoble, believe the poor battery life will limit the amount people can video. Scoble said a six-minute video used up 20 percent of the battery when he trialled it.

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