May 17, 2013 — -- While some members of Congress might have been excited to try on Google's Glass this week, others are concerned about their privacy implications.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and seven other members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus have sent a letter to Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page requesting answers to a series of privacy questions and concerns raised by the camera-equipped glasses.
"As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of average Americans," the letter reads. "Because Google Glass has not yet been released and we are uncertain of Google's plans to incorporate privacy protections into the device, there are still a number of answered questions that we share."
Eight questions are put forth in the letter, which can be read in full here. The first question addresses Google's track record for ignoring consumer privacy and cites that in 2010 Google had collected user data over wireless networks without permission: "While we are thankful that Google acknowledged that there was an issue and took responsible measures to address it, we would like to know how Google plans to prevent Glass from unintentionally collecting data about the user / non-user without consent?"
Later questions focus on the concerns about the integrated camera and computing capabilities. "When using Google Glass, is it true that this product would be able to use Facial Recognition Technology to unveil personal information about whomever and even inanimate objects that the user is viewing?"
The group even asks about what privacy restrictions have been put in place for Glass app developers. While not referenced in the letter, a developer named Michael DiGiovanni created a Glass app called "Winky," which allows a photo to be taken with just a blink of the eye.
Earlier this week, at the request of the GOP, Google representatives held Google Glass demonstrations at the beginning and the end of the meeting, allowing Congressional members to try on the sought-after technology. Still these members of the committee, which in addition to Barton includes Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson Jr. (D-Georgia), and Richard Nugent (R-Florida), have many unanswered questions and have requested Google's official response to the questions no later than Friday, June 14, 2013.
However, on Thursday, at a Google Glass event at Google's I/O conference, the Google Glass team addressed some of the concerns. "Privacy was top of mind as we designed the product," the product director of Glass, Steve Lee, said. "You'll know when someone with Glass is paying attention to you. If you're looking at Glass, you're looking up." The display on the glasses sits right above your eye.
In addition to those comments, Google said in a statement, "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." Google Glass is not yet available for purchase; instead, Google has begun selling an Explorer Edition for $1,500 to early adopters and software developers.