Google Glass Says No to Facial Recognition, at Least for Now - Page 2

Such a scenario could produce safety issues for many citizens if their facial recognition were linked to their name and address, he said. "I think that is a serious concern," said Brookman.

Such privacy issues and concerns even extend to the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, he said. "Would the First Amendment argue against that? We care about privacy, but we also care about free expression as well. We would have to say 'yes' to the First Amendment, but we have to have some abilities to protect ourselves, too."

Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said his group is pleased with the Google policy for now, but added that it can't stop others from developing or using facial-recognition apps on their Glass devices outside the Google Glass ecosystem.

"If someone wanted to install their own app outside of Google, they could probably do that," said Opsahl. "The privacy concerns come for Glass if it becomes ubiquitous. Right now, there are millions of cell phones out there but just a few Glass devices."

Society is ultimately going to have to decide what it feels about these kinds of technologies, he said. "I appreciate what Google is trying to do here to assuage some of the concerns with Glass. We will have to see how facial recognition is implemented in the future. It's not about the power of the apps, but it's about how people will use it."

To truly protect personal privacy with Glass, that would likely mean that users will have to take them off and put them away in social situations where it would be inappropriate to record other people, said Opsahl.

"Facial-recognition software changes the paradigm," he said. "Without it, people can see your face but no one could recognize you, giving you de facto privacy. With facial-recognition software, this creates the possibility that even if you would have otherwise been anonymous that it could reveal your identity. This means we are facing a future in which previously private activities are being made incredibly public."

This is not the first time that privacy issues involving Glass have arisen.

A West Virginia legislator introduced a bill this past March that would have banned drivers from operating motor vehicles while wearing Glass and similar head-mounted devices, but the bill stalled and no action was taken in the last session of the state House.

Some members of the U.S. Congress are also taking up the cause of asking lots more questions about the privacy implications of Google Glass, even before the devices are sold to the general public, according to a recent eWEEK report.

In May, the Bi-partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page asking some pointed questions about how Google planned to ensure that the privacy of users, and more important, non-users, was being protected. The members of the caucus noted a series of stories in the media that had emerged about Google Glass, particularly the ability to find detailed information about a person just by looking at them, and letting Google perform facial recognition and then providing all available information.

Each Google Glass device includes adjustable nose pads and a high-resolution display that Google said is the equivalent of a 25-inch high-definition screen from 8 feet away. The glasses also boast a built-in camera that takes 5-megapixel photos and video at 720p. Audio is delivered to wearers through their bones, using bone-conduction transducers that were revealed in earlier reports.

Google Glass isn't ready for the general public, but sales of the devices are now expected to begin sometime later this year, according to a recent eWEEK report. That's at least months earlier than the 2014 retail debut the company had been targeting since last year, a source inside Google told eWEEK. The source would not elaborate on why the retail launch schedule is being moved up.