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At Google I/O, Glass wearers say 'trust us'

Google is facing questions from Congress over the privacy issues raised by Glass

By Zach Miners, IDG News Service
May 16, 2013 11:06 PM ET
 
close up of Google Glass wearer
Kerry Davis
A Google Glass wearer shows how to take a photo wearing the device at Google I/O.
 

IDG News Service - Google is facing some tough questions from Congress over the privacy concerns raised by Glass, its fledgling augmented reality system for recording and receiving information on the fly. But on the ground at the company's I/O conference for developers, attendees are largely enthusiastic about the technology.

"It's awesome -- I'm having a hard time not wearing it everywhere I go," said Mike Hendrickson, vice president of content strategy at the tech analysis group O'Reilly Radar. "Although the one thing that's creepy ... is that you might get too much information about people," he added.

Glass is a head-mounted computer worn like regular glasses. It contains a small, prism-shaped display that hangs in front of the wearer's right eye, next to a tiny camera. In its current form, Glass can serve up many different types of information through voice commands and certain gestures. Photos can quickly be taken by voice, or by tapping Glass, or by a simple lift of the head.

With respect to photos, Glass is fine as long as it does not allow normal gestures to snap a picture, Hendrickson said. While checking out at a grocery store, for instance, Hendrickson was asked by a cashier if he was taking a picture of her. "I said 'No, you didn't see my lift my head up or touch the side [of Glass],'" he said.

Watch an IDG News Service video of Glass-wearing attendees here.

Glass wearers are generally trustworthy and polite, another devotee said. "They ask before taking photos -- they're not just randomly taking photos of anyone," said Rajiv Makhijani, the developer behind a startup service called Ice Breaker, which seeks to connect Glass wearers who are near each other based on GPS data.

Others argued that Glass, at least with respect to photography, does not raise new privacy issues in an era of mobile devices and smartphones.

"Whether you're using Glass or your smartphone, just knowing when to take pictures is sort of an appropriate social behavior," said Lisa Oshima, a tech consultant at Socialize Mobilize.

Another wearer seemed apathetic. "People could be saying, 'Okay Glass, take a picture,' and it takes a picture instantly," said Justina Sigle, founder of Rutgers Mobile App Development.

"It's okay," she said, shrugging, after trying on the device for the first time.

Congress isn't as sure. On Thursday members of a U.S. congressional group on privacy wrote to Google CEO Larry Page requesting information on how the device handles privacy issues. Some of their questions focus on whether Glass will be able to use facial recognition technology to reveal personal information about people, or whether users would be able to request that information.

Google claims to be taking those concerns seriously. "We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new concerns," the company said in a statement.

But as an open platform technology, figuring out how to deal with Glass' privacy implications may also depend on how tough Google is willing to get on developers who build applications for the device. The company's Explorer program for developers "will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology," Google said.

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