Google Glass Security, Privacy Worries Complicate Wide Adoption

The always-on devices show what may be possible in the future of the Internet of Things but also highlight the dangers.

As a Google Explorer, Anthony Pettenon wears his enthusiasm for technology on his face.

A member of Google's program to expose its always-on Glass devices to the real world, the sophomore at the University of Tampa in Florida regularly wears the devices to class and out around the city. People are not worried about being around an always-on device, while the convenience and connectedness of the device is just cool, Pettenon says.

"It is cooler because you are wearing technology, rather than holding it," Pettenon said. "Things are a lot faster—you can instantly take a picture or video and upload it right away."

Yet those same benefits also make the devices more of a privacy and security risk for people and organizations. Google Glass is one of the more well-known examples of the Internet of Things, devices that keep people connected to the Internet as they move about their daily lives. While the increased convenience has sold many people, such as Pettenon, on the benefits of sustained connectivity, technologists and security researchers are warning that there could be serious security and privacy implications.

At the Black Hat security conference in July, for example, security researcher Brendan O'Connor showed off an inexpensive system of wireless sensors and analysis algorithms that could allow anyone to track the movements of a large number of people around a city by listening for signals from their mobile devices.

Dubbed CreepyDOL, the system highlights how much information people leak into the digital world just by walking around with a smartphone or tablet. When smartphones search for a wireless access point they send out enough information to be tracked, while a variety of popular applications send out even more personal data without encryption.

"We are leaking too much data for random reasons," O'Connor told attendees.

Many of the users of such technology do not realize how much information they are broadcasting. For Pettenon, for example, there is little difference from the always-on Google Glass device and today's ever-present smartphones, despite the fact that he is sending out far more photos, video and other data on every aspect of his life.

"I don't think the privacy concerns are that great because there are other devices out there that you can do the same exact thing," Pettenon said.

Connected devices, such as Google Glass, will only make the problem worse unless steps are taken to prevent leakage. Users still do not recognize that they are carrying around what essentially is a mobile sensor suite.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...