That’s one of the discoveries in a four-page letter dated June 7th that Google sent to Congressman Joe Barton, co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus — the group that sent Google a letter back in May with numerous questions about privacy and Google Glass.
Google’s letter (download the PDF), which is signed by VP of Public Policy and Government Relations Susan Molinari, says no — Google isn’t planning any such changes just because of Glass.
The includes a couple other new bits of privacy-related about Glass:
Although Glass Explorers — the current group of Glass owners that are essentially guinea pigs testing the device before public launch — aren’t allowed to sell or give Glass to anyone else, Google knows it won’t be able to stop the public from doing the same.
“While we ask participants in our Explorer program not to sell or transfer their Glass,” Molinari writes, “users who someday transfer Glass to others will have options for removing their content from the device.”
That’s possible now, actually — at least to some degree. Every photo or video stored on Glass can be deleted manually. In the “MyGlass” website, which serves as a control center for the device, there’s also a “Factory Reset” button that would wipe-out data on Glass.
Molinari’s reply, though, gives the impression that there may be some middle-ground options in development — something easier than manually removing every photo or video one at a time, and less dramatic than wiping the entire device clean.
Google Working On “Lock” Option For Lost Glass
Just as I can add “lock” protection to my iPhone to prevent strangers from getting into my stuff if I lose it, Google says it’s working on a similar tool for Glass owners:
“We are experimenting with ‘lock’ solutions to determine what would work best for this type of device,” Molinari says. “In the event a device is misplaced or somehow compromised, users can use their Google account to login to MyGlass and initiate a remote wipe of all data stored on Glass, as described above.”
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google also add “Find My Glass” capabilities, similar to apps that let smartphone owners locate their missing phones.
Rep. Barton Isn’t Impressed
Barton, the Texas representative whose office sent the original letter to Google, isn’t impressed with Google’s answers to the caucus’ privacy questions. He issued this statement today:
I am disappointed in the responses we received from Google. 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. When new technology like this is introduced that could change societal norms, I believe it is important that people’s rights be protected and vital that privacy is built into the device. I look forward to continuing a working relationship with Google as Google Glass develops.
Barton doesn’t get any more specific about which questions weren’t answered or weren’t answered adequately. (In my reading of Google’s letter, it looks like every question was answered.)
The Problem with the Glass Privacy Debate
The bigger problem here is that Congress (and Canadian privacy officials, too) are asking questions about a device that
- they don’t have
- they don’t know how it works, and
- will no doubt change between now and the time it’s available to the public
The same applies to a lot of the articles that have been written about Glass and privacy. There are definite privacy issues that Glass raises, and Congress/Canada are right to ask (especially gives Google’s track record on privacy; see the WiSpy or Google Buzz episodes, for example) but a lot of the public discussion so far is too heavy with hype and too light on substance.
Google could’ve perhaps been more specific in a couple of its answers to Congress’ original letter, and it could do more to explain how Glass works than to say, “Hey, just watch this 68-second video.” (Yes, Molinari’s letter links to that YouTube video and invites Barton and the caucus to have a look.)
But I find Google’s response to be about as good as it could be, at least for now. As Google warns, though, “we are still actively working on Glass, so the information provided here may change prior to our full consumer release of the product.”