Privacy Commissioner concerned about Google Glass, sends letter to Google

Data privacy authorities around the world, including Canadian privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, have sent an open letter to Google Inc., outlining their concerns with Google Glass.

Thirty-seven provincial and international privacy offices from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Israel, as well as privacy commissioners in Alberta, Quebec and British Columbia, have signed off on the letter addressed to Google CEO Larry Page.

In the letter, they listed their concerns with Google Glass, including questions about how it complies with data protection laws, what kinds of privacy protections Google has in place, what kind of data Google is collecting and why, and who the data will be shared with.

On a broader level, the letter also asked Google to share about how it will tackle issues around facial recognition, whether it will address “social and ethical issues” cropping up from individuals secretly collecting information about each other, and if Google would bring a device to any of the authorities for testing.

Chief among the data authorities’ concerns is that they haven’t been consulted, saying they feel companies need to build privacy into their products before releasing them.

“Google Glass raises significant privacy issues and it is disappointing that Google has not engaged more meaningfully with data protection authorities about this technology,” Stoddart said in a statement. “We are urging Google to take part in a real dialogue with us about Google Glass.”

In an email, the privacy commissioner’s office said the letter was the result of several discussions with the International Enforcement Cooperation Working Group, which started at a conference in Mexico City in 2011. The group has been in touch over issues that concern all of the countries involved, including Google Glass and how it may infringe on citizens’ privacy.

“This technology could become ‘always on computing’ … Our Office has reached out to Google in the recent past to try and learn more about Glass. To date however, we haven’t been provided with much more than what has been included in media reports. It was felt that raising concerns in an open letter would be an effective way to brig [sic] privacy concerns to Google’s attention,” said a spokesperson from the privacy commissioner’s office.

“While it’s disappointing that Google hasn’t engaged more meaningfully with data protection authorities about this technology, we’re hopeful that company will provide information to respond to our concerns prior to wider availability of its product.”

Google confirmed it received the letter.

“We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues. Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology,” said Google Canada spokesperson Leslie Church in an email. The Glass Explorer program is the one currently allowing a select group of developers to test the product.

Google still hasn’t officially launched Glass for the consumer market, but it is slated to be available to consumers by winter 2013.

The piece of wearable technology, presented as a pair of glasses with a camera, display, and touch screen, allows wearers to pull up data and view it right in front of their eyes. Users will be able to easily take photos and record video, access Google Maps for directions, and answer messages.

Church added that Google Glass has a display light that turns on when the device is active, and that to perform actions, the user needs to speak or do a physical gesture.

Still, this isn’t the first time Google Glass has raised the ire of those anxious to protect their privacy from scrutinizing, Glass-covered eyes.

Earlier this month, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement ordered 12 casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. to ban the device for fear of cheating.

And in May, a Seattle, W.A. bar called the 5 Point said it is also banning the glasses to protect its customers’ privacy.

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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