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

Google answers critics by saying that it will not allow facial recognition on Glass until strong privacy-protection measures are in place.

Google Glass

Google Glass has been a hit so far for Google, but some critics argue they continue to be worried about the privacy implications surrounding the use of Glass, which is an eyewear-mounted computer that features a still camera, a video cam and other real-time recording features.

In answer to some of those critics, Google has now pledged that it won't approve of any facial-recognition apps that could run on Glass until strong privacy controls can be created to guard against misuse of such a feature.

"Our Explorer Program makes users active participants in evolving Glass ahead of a wider consumer launch," a Google spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous, told eWEEK in a June 3 email. "In keeping with this approach, we've updated our developer policies to include not allowing facial-recognition Glassware at this time. We look forward to learning more from our users as we update the software and evolve our policies in the weeks and months ahead."

The spokesperson's comments came after the Google Glass team posted a message announcing its stance on facial-recognition apps on the Glass Google+ page on May 31.

"When we started the Explorer Program nearly a year ago our goal was simple: we wanted to make people active participants in shaping the future of this technology ahead of a broader consumer launch. We've been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass. As Google has said for several years, we won't add facial-recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won't be approving any facial-recognition Glassware at this time."

The very first Google Glass preview units already began shipping in April to the developers who signed up at the original June 2012 Google I/O conference to buy an early set for $1,500 for testing and development. The Glass project was unveiled officially for the first time to developers at that event, where the eyewear-mounted computer was the hit of the conference.

As more details and innovations about Glass have been released, privacy experts have been publicly sharing some of their concerns about how Glass might be detrimental to privacy as the devices begin showing up in cities and towns across the nation.

The news that Google won't approve any facial-recognition apps for the devices right now is "probably the right call," said Justin Brookman, the director for consumer privacy with the Center for Democracy & Technology. "It's definitely a concern that we have," he said of Glass and similar technologies.

There are actually different levels of facial recognition, he said, from simpler forms that could identify a person generically based on their gender or age range, compared with powerful facial-recognition software that can absolutely identify a person by name.

"If I am walking by a sign with a facial-recognition reader and it identifies me as a middle-aged man and gives me an advertisement based on that profile, that may be OK, but if it identifies me as Justin Brookman, I might have a problem with that," said Brookman. "I don't think I'd like the idea of anyone being able to identify me by name."