Is Google Glass a Threat to Privacy and Safety?

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Is Google Glass a threat to privacy and safety? A recent survey seems to suggest exactly that.

Google Glass, which remains in the development stage, is a special headset that allows users to access emails, text messages, navigation data, and more. The device can also be used to snap pictures and record video, which can then be uploaded to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Currently, Google is testing Google Glass using "explorers" -- or freelance agents who were given an early build of the device in exchange for their feedback on its overall functionality.

Privacy, Safety Major Concerns for Consumers

The survey polled 1,000 Americans and was carried out by online market research firm Toluna. It found that 72 per cent of participants said they would not buy Google Glass because of privacy or safety concerns. (Source:

It's worth noting that while a poll size of 1,000 is relatively small, it is typical for national surveys that are representative of the general population. (Source:

That said, the survey suggests that the most pressing concern was in regard to privacy. Many respondents said they worried that the small, light, and highly-portable device -- if lost or stolen -- could allow third parties access to highly sensitive personal information such as a home address location, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Others said they were concerned that Google Glass would be too distracting, particularly behind the wheel. They're not alone: lawmakers in a number of U.S. states have already devised legislation that would bar drivers from using Google Glass. In one notable case, a San Diego policeman issued a distracted driving ticket to a woman wearing Google Glass spectacles. The woman fought the measure and won her case because the policeman could not prove the spectacles were turned on when he issued the ticket.

For its part Google is working hard to show lawmakers that, if used properly, Google Glass can actually prevent accidents by providing drivers with important navigation and highway safety data.

Video, Pictures Could Be Taken Without Consent

There are also worries that Google Glass threatens the privacy, security, and even intellectual property of those not wearing the headset. Many people have expressed concern that the device could be used to take pictures or record video without consent.

Recently, a man was ejected from an Ohio movie theater for wearing Google Glass. He was immediately apprehended and subsequently interrogated by FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). The concern in this case was due to movie piracy - the man was alleged to have secretly recorded the movie while wearing the headset. It was later determined that he did not record the video and was set free. (Source:

Toluna says it's important Google address all of these concerns before it even thinks about releasing Google Glass to the public.

"Google Glass is not yet available on the open market, although it is clear that a high proportion of individuals have concerns about the potential impact on their privacy," noted Toluna managing director, Mark Simon. "This is something Google and other tech companies using the technology should address before the product can become mainstream." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Are you excited for Google Glass and do you plan to purchase the device if and when it becomes available to the general public? Or, are privacy and safety concerns a major factor preventing you from purchasing the headset? Lastly, what do you think about wearable technology such as smart eyeglasses and smart watches? Are they simply a fad, or do you think these devices will prove to be a huge money maker for technology companies like Google?

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dna's picture

The critical issue is how devices like Glass relate to non-users. Let's address the matter by analogy. If someone were walking around in public with a typical snap-and-shoot camera held up and 'at-the-ready' and that person walked up to you with their camera pointed at you like that... How would this make you feel?

There's no difference here other than the form factor. Me? If someone walked up to me like that I would turn around and ignore them. If they, realizing the reason for such a stolid response, tried to address my annoyance by re-assuring that the camera was not turned on, or not recording, then my reply would go something like this: "Then why don't you please show some common decency and put that away before walking up and trying to engage people you don't even know."

It would even be a little uncomfortable to have friends and associates walk up and, without any warning, having their recording devices (audio and video mind you) pointed and ready to go.

DavidFB's picture

To me, it's illustrative of changes in the offing and it's simply become a visible trigger point. I can see where the glasses may be a hazard much like talking on a cell phone when driving but when set up properly, more like hands-free.

It would seem people are largely oblivious to other form-factors of similar technology. You can buy lapel-mount cameras, for example, and people have no objection because the are not aware of them. The film Minority Report highlighted the potential for personal tracking for advertising and control. That is already happening in ways most people are only vaguely aware of.

Picture without consent? We're long past that. We're captured by cell phone and security cameras all the time without our awareness or consent. We're tagged in photos on social media we've never heard of. And free photo matching technology online allows people to search for similar across the web.

There's good reason to be concerned about our security of person and freedom. But the issue is not one technology from one company. Its the pervasive background tracking we're allowing to happen that has polluted the web and is following the leading technology into our homes with the Internet of Everything. Good technology but trouble if we don't clean up the mess being created behind it.

As for the specific technology, I see no particular need for it. Google will undoubtedly spend astonishing amounts of money establishing the market. Probably to rather modest results. I do expect that I'll adopt wearable technology when it becomes more reliable and practical though. A slab of "smart" glass in your pocket is remarkable technology but has not yet adapted away from desktop thinking. Flexible displays are evidently coming.

Are you aware that Microsoft has lost well over half of their market share already? People may be interested to read this piece on how some new technologies may change the job market - far more than technology already has. Some of this has already begun.