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NameTag could make Google Glass's reputation even worse

Google Glass already has a pretty poor reputation among the public. Facial recognition apps will only make it worse.

By Open Source Community on Mon, 01/13/14 - 9:33am.
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UPDATE: Chris Dale, head of communications and public affairs for Google Glass, emailed me in response to this article to clarify that Google's Glass developer policy does not allow facial recognition technology. Here is a link to the Glass Developers policy, where Google acknowledges that it will not support facial recognition:

Don't use the camera or microphone to cross-reference and immediately present personal information identifying anyone other than the user, including use cases such as facial recognition and voice print. Glassware that do this will not be approved at this time.

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In late December, a YouTube video surfaced showing demos of the “world’s first real-time Google Glass facial recognition app,” which used Glass to identify not only celebrities by the photos posted around the room, but the everyday people who participated in the demo.

With Glass, users of the app can take photos of a person’s face and submit it to the app, called NameTag, which then compares the photo to others that NameTag has pulled from online dating sites like OkCupid.com and Match.com, as well as online criminal databases like the National Sex Offender Registry. Although Google Glass has yet to incorporate support for facial recognition technology, NameTag creator Kevin Alan Tussy has said that he anticipates finding an alternative hardware solution for the app if Glass doesn’t eventually change course on the policy.

BACKGROUND: Google Glass can now search faces in real time

As many may have expected, the app has received some strong criticism. One well-known Canadian privacy advocate, Raffi Cavoukian, has publicly denounced the app, claiming that despite NameTag’s attempt to limit its scanning abilities to only those aged 18+, it will make it easier to violate the privacy of minors.

"You can’t know how old someone is online in social media… Millions of parents, and this is well known, lie about their kids’ age, and put them on Facebook much younger than 13. This is a huge problem," Cavoukian, the founder of the Centre for Child Honouring and co-founder of the Red Hood Project formed to protect children, told the Metro recently.

Beyond the obvious privacy concerns, however, is what early news about these apps could do for Google Glass. Since reaching limited members of the public through the Google Glass Explorer program, Glass has been criticized pretty heavily. After weeks of posting goofy photos of selfies taken by Google Glass users, the creators of the tumblr blog White Men Wearing Google Glass explained that they stopped updating it after discovering the vitriol Glass elicited out of the public. The reception of Google Glass was much less lighthearted than those behind the blog had hoped.

Similarly, a post to a ZDNet blog in early January asked bluntly, “How do I stop people calling me a ‘Glasshole’?” After wearing Glass while walking around Manhattan, Zach Whittaker reported “less than desirable responses from the general public,” ranging from strange looks to verbal abuse from strangers. Whittaker suggests that the exclusive nature of the Glass community may be to blame, and for some people that's probably the case. Another likely contributing factor, though, could be that passersby are concerned that Glass users are recording them in public against their will. In Whittaker’s case, it seems they would have been right.

A Motherboard article about NameTag suggests that the app could only intensify the contempt for Google Glass, particularly when everyday people find out that those wearing them can find everything about them – from their criminal history to their online dating profiles – just by looking at them in a public place.

“Either way, as the full creepiness of Google Glass’ potential reveals itself, I think I’m increasingly likely to run away from anyone wearing the headset long before worrying if they’re a sex offender or not,” Motherboard UK editor Victoria Turk concluded in the article.

A quick glance at the comments on that article shows that she’s not alone, with some even threatening to break strangers’ Glass devices.

The big problem for Google Glass right now is that people who don't use it simply don't like it when they come across it in the real world. Reports suggesting that Glass will make it easier to violate their privacy will only make it worse.

Unfortunately for those with access to them, it seems the only way to stop people from calling Glass users "Glassholes" is to stop wearing them in public at all.