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.
But for many, those answers and the idea of leaving the privacy issues up to Google aren't enough. A series of public places have already begun to ban the connected glasses, including casinos like the one in Caesars Palace. MGM Resorts also says it is watching the technology closely and anyone suspected to be "videotaping or taking photographs in the gaming areas of the resorts" with the glasses will be asked to discontinue doing so. Some select bars and movie theaters have also said that use of the connected glasses won't be allowed. The West Virginia state legislature has also proposed an amendment banning the use of Glass while driving.
"There are significant privacy and security risks inherent with Google Glass and I expect more places to ban them," Brad Shear, a Washington-area attorney and blogger who is an expert on social media, told ABC News. "Would you be comfortable going to your doctor's office/hospital and a nurse and/or the doctor were wearing them? There are state wiretap laws that require consent of a user before they are recorded. Users may violate state wiretap laws while using Glass."
Even Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, has said that there are places where Glass isn't appropriate. He said last month he didn't wear them in North Korea since it didn't seem appropriate. ""I didn't want to freak them out," he said. "They have a lot of guns."
But while Google is hoping users figure it out for themselves and adjust the social norms, some, including those eight members of Congress, don't think that's the route.
"It's troublesome that Google is throwing these things out and not thinking through the problems. That's why it's important that Congress gets involved and starts asking these questions," Shear said. "If they don't ask them, they might not be answered."