Privacy commissioners issue please-explain about Google Glass



blog It’s been hailed as the vanguard of wearable computing, derided as a plaything of perverts and stalkers, and banned in a Seattle bar even though it’s not broadly available in the wild and is still untold months from release. No doubt about it: Google Glass is already brewing a firestorm of controversy – and its possibilities for public snooping have proved worrying enough to Australia’s privacy watchdog that he has requested a meeting with Google to discuss its implications.

It may be that Timothy Pilgrim, Australia’s privacy commissioner, was frustrated in his efforts to become a Glass Explorer and really just wants to get an early chance to test out what is becoming one of the most talked-about new gadgets never to hit the market. More likely, however, is that he is concerned about the implications of rampant and hidden surveillance, and wants to get a better sense of what Google intends the device to be able to do – and how this would impact on Australia’s existing and soon-to-be-revised privacy legislation, which will get a major makeover in March 2014.

Here’s what Pilgrim told the Australian Financial Review in this very interesting story (please click through for the full story):

“Along with benefits, these technologies also present a number of potential risks to privacy, especially when combined with other emerging technologies like facial recognition and augmented reality….At this early stage, the full implications of this technology, such as how people will use it, and for what purposes, are unclear [which is why] I have requested a briefing from Google.”

The story also quotes an analyst who believes the gadget is “democratising” the ability to conduct surveillance on the world around us – and a peer of Pilgrim’s who is concerned that’s one form of democracy the world doesn’t need. It’s not clear whether it would fall under the auspices of laws preventing hidden recording of conversations – the glasses aren’t exactly invisible, although they’re subtle and there’s no apparent way to know what they’re being used for – but it nonetheless has all sorts of creepy and amazing potential uses.

Image credit: Google


  1. What is everyone thinking about Google Glass? Truly exciting innovation, or niche product that will further disconnect us from the people and scenes around us?

    What would you use it for?

    • What would you use it for?

      i don’t know that i have an actual use for them at the moment, but i would still like to have a play.

    • What would I use it for?

      Well off the top of my head:

      1. Heads up display for speedo and mapping on the vespa
      2. Golf GPS/Ball flight tracker/putting line estimation (maybe not on the V1 but it will come)
      3. Crowd size estimation
      4. Keeping the authorities a lot more honest :-)

      I think David Brin ( ) had a lot to say on this that was prescient; the State only wants surveillance to be top down, things like Google Glass will democratise it. Privacy will change but then it has never been a static thing. We’ll learn to deal with this as a society and hopefully will make informed choices and not let vested interests push us in directions that advantage only them.

      • One thing I stupidly left out – GAMES

        Imagine the real-world overlay games you could use this for, examples are already appearing in the mobile phone market (Ingress is a prime example: ). Much scope for this with the added benefit you could really get fitter playing computer games ;-)

        And for spectators at sports the ability to see overlaid data and have their own analysis tools or a feed to other camera views are a possibility as well. Multiple camera angles viewable from your seat. Share views with others at the same venue… there’s plenty of scope here and it’s just scratching the surface!

  2. Everybody is concerned about people recording each other, and I agree that is bad.

    But what about the fact that the world’s largest advertising company will know everything you look at and everyone you talk to (not just on the phone)? How long do they keep that stuff – 18 months I think?

    That freaks me out more.

    But then Google are good guys and don’t do evil, right? They’re spending all this money because they’re just geeks doing it for the greater good. They’re not really an advertising company.

  3. I would think it would have a benefit for police & security officers …its the same idea as the cameras in police cars in America….

    But as a person item i don’t know what i would use them for, unless for collage to record my classes for
    later playback.

    • +1

      I see it as having a similar uptake as the Segway, finding its primary use in the security industry.

      I expect to see bouncer out the front of nightclubs wearing them to vet people before allowing entry.

  4. You can already get video camera glasses from places like Kogan, and I haven’t seen anyone even mention those, even though you could take that video home and do all the facial recognition and other stuff.

    Whats the difference with these, besides it’s Google?

  5. This is hilarious.

    Its a camera, that is bloody obvious on your face, with an apparently 3 hour battery life.

    My god, you’d think we had never had mobile phone cameras, or slrs, or compact digital point and shoots or webcams built into laptops!

    And to all the conspiracy theorists (world’s biggest advetiser knowing what we look at) its simple. Don’t buy one! Or use it offline! Or use it with non Google branded services!

    Or do you also worry about those webcams in laptops, I mean they know what you are typing into your laptop, looking at on your screen AND what you look like in your underwear cause of the webcam in 90% of laptops.

    This guy just wanted to sound like he knew something that wasn’t speculation when asked by the media. This device changes nothing.

    I think I can put my phone in my pocket in such a way that the camera is recording everything in front of me.

    What’s more interesting about Google glass isn’t the camera, its the screen, I want to see what it can do for me.

      • If you walk past someone using Google glass recording all the time, you have just walked past someone who likes to stop and recharge his device ALL THE TIME.

        These things aren’t magic, how long can your mobile phone run with the camera recording?

        Do you worry when you walk past someone holding their mobile in their hands? They have your image recorded by whoever! (You know Google also likes to auto sync photos from android phones to picasa right).

        These things don’t record always. And the battery life is not going to be great if they are both recording AND streaming it to Google. No one will use this device in that way. (Maybe in 20 years time after we invent some magic new battery tech, but not now).

        • There is a fairly significant difference between someone wearing glasses that “might” be recording, and someone holding a phone in a way that is obvious that they are recording.

          As to Battery life. It would not be difficult to connect more significant batteries to a device like this, and have them hidden on your person, or even in a backpack. A wire connecting the battery to the device would look no more significant than a set of headphones.

          I am not for or against the device, honestly it is not something that concerns me greatly. If someone recorded me and put weird shit on the web with me in it, it would likely amuse me more than anything. BUT I can definitely see the privacy concerns here.

          • Oh yeah and that’s not even going into the possibility of the data being provided to Google as a medium for advertising.

  6. The problem with Google glass is that they are set up to be worn as spectacles which raises a number of questions such as:

    What happens if you already wear glasses?
    Have you got to have lenses attached to the device and how?
    How is the weight going to affect comfort?
    Will the device distract from your normal vision?
    Will wearing them in public or driving be considered dangerous?
    When will it be considered safe to wear and use them?

    Privacy may be a problem but I really see other problems that are more pressing and to be honest I can’t see their value.

    • What happens if you already wear glasses?
      There are plans to have prescription versions

      Have you got to have lenses attached to the device and how?
      As the projection is largely a HUD type, yes. That could change, and competing products may simply attach to the sidearm of any glasses

      How is the weight going to affect comfort?

      Will the device distract from your normal vision?
      Will wearing them in public or driving be considered dangerous?
      When will it be considered safe to wear and use them?

      • Stupid computer…

        What happens if you already wear glasses?
        There are plans to have prescription versions

        Have you got to have lenses attached to the device and how?
        As the projection is largely a HUD type, yes. That could change, and competing products may simply attach to the sidearm of any glasses

        How is the weight going to affect comfort?
        Effectively the weight is minimal. Not much more than wearing sunglasses now, issue will be more weight distribution – will one side weight more than the other?

        Will the device distract from your normal vision?
        Thats the big issue. From early reports, not really after a short while, but any possible distraction will be billed as a negative. Personally, no more so than glancing at the speedo.

        Will wearing them in public or driving be considered dangerous?
        Some places are already saying yes, most havent made a call yet. Again, I dont think they will be any more of a risk than glancing as the dash of a car now.

        When will it be considered safe to wear and use them?
        Up to each countries lawmakers. They need some consistency though, or you have a case where its totally legal throughout all of Europe, except Italy for example. What happens if cycling incorporates similar technology in glasses and visors, and the tour de france ducks over the border for one stage?

        Personally, these are a natural progression from whats been introduced over the last 20 years. Mobiles werent needed, now they are a necessary part of society. It’s all about access to information, so taking it a step further, and its natural that we get to a on demand situation.

        Which moves a little away from a stored device (like the phone in your pocket), and on to an immediately available option. Glasses, watch, windscreen, etc etc. Its a logical move forwards.

        There are plenty of reasons these can fail. But think about ways it could work instead. I think its almost inevitable.

  7. Google’s attempts at avoiding evil aside, I think it’s heartening that the Privacy Commissioner is attempting to get involved at this early stage, rather than waiting ten years for problems to emerge and become utterly entrenched.

    Then again, it might just be a play for headlines.

    • How cynical. The privacy Commissioner has no need for headlines, he has actual work to do.

      I do think Glass raises some important issues, but I also think people are having knee-jerk reactions to something that really isn’t going to pose the sort of threat most tinfoil hat wearers are wailing about – that will be v.3 ;-)

      But as people have rightly pointed out, there are already issues here with mobile phones and other recording devices, so perhaps this kind of discussion and legislative investigation is actually long overdue?

      As for uses of Glass, I can think of plenty (although the technology today isn’t really up to the task yet):
      Contacts HUD – for all those times you’re talking to people you’ve met or you’re meant to know, but you just can’t remember their names or what you spoke about last time – Glass could throw up their name and a Contact Summary in your field of view.
      Technical HUD – provide technical descriptions, pull up service manuals and provide logical suggestions for work you’re performing. Turns anyone into an expert in realtime (all while filming the process to add to the collective pool of knowledge on the subject).
      Consumer HUD – Of limited use in a country with such draconian defamation law that people are too scared to talk about bad experiences, but for the rest of the world you could turn every shopping experience into the equivalent of Amazon product reviews. Imagine if you could do this with everyone you meet?

      On the flip side of all the ‘invasion of privacy’ stuff, could it eventually lead to a society that’s actually nicer and takes more responsibility for itself, because everyone’s watching all the time? Maybe most people would just get used to it and act the same way, once but if the technology became ubiquitous would that lead to the nicest, most upstanding people rising to the top, because suddenly all their honesty and strength of character is there for all the world to see, standing out like a beacon through the morally questionable and downright reprehensible behaviour of the majority?

      • The word ‘once’ before ‘bit of the technology…’ shouldn’t be there.

        Should be ‘… and (sometimes) downright reprehensible…’

  8. One issue that has not been mentioned, is how much of the data collected by the glasses will be collated / stored on the internet or used for advertising purposes?

    If it is used in that fashion, I can see it continuing to blurr the lines between persion and professional lives. I know of situatuions where people are asked about facebook / social media in job interviews, and good searches are common form of background check on potential employees as an easy way to dig up further information.

    What can be stored where?
    Who has access to it?

  9. Google is a multi-national advertising company. To presume Google Glass is innocuous fun, that it has short battery life and is simply a bit of fun, probably suggests folks should have a little bit more critical thinking in their lives.

    Glass is an amazing piece of technology that takes some pretty out-there concepts and wraps them into a single product. It’s pretty cool.

    But it is a product with a purpose. Designed to capture everything you do. That is how it’s being pitched. Life stream everything. Be connected to everything. Tell the world what you’re doing. Away you go.

    Google has been fanatical about data gathering; it’s their business after-all. Glass is a gateway to gathering entire life stories; it’s the advertising holy grail. The thing to remember here, beyond the kooky looking hardware, is that this is a pandora’s box for privacy. Once a bunch of these are out there, there’s really no way to undo it.

    And the joking about phones and cameras being prevalent is a good one, apart from one thing; we’ve all become familiar with camera phones, and may not pay it much mind; but it is typically obvious when a phone’s camera is in use. It’s pointing at people.

    There is, basically, a visual cue. Even if surreptitious at times.

    I, personally, think Glass is a pretty cool bit of kit. And I can think of all manner of cool stuff I could do with a pair. I also think it’s extremely naive to just brush away the hardware as being a bit impotent. The product is designed to capture every possible conceivable event, public or private and archive it.

    Ultimately, it’s not really Glass, but what it represents, that’s perhaps the important thing.

  10. And what happens in 10 years time when you get a polite call from a nice lady who says, “Good morning sir, we’ve noticed that your Glass has been switched off for almost a day now and our diagnostic messages are not indicating any faults with your device. Is there any particular reason why you’re not wearing your Glass?”

    “No, not really,” you reply, puzzled.

    “I see. Well, we’re committed to empowering our users to make the most of our integrated services and Glass now forms the interface between your life and our online community. If you have no objections, I’ll just reboot your Glass for you.”


    “And if you can take your Glass from, let’s see, oh yes, the top drawer of the desk in your study and put it back on, I can reactivate your e-mail, phone, SaaS and Internet accounts for you.”

    “Hey, what…?”

    “Now, sir. I think it would be best if you went upstairs to your study. Now!”

    • If something like that was going to actually happen, it would have already occured with mobile phones I think…

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