Privacy Law

Google Glass – innovation or threat to privacy?

The idea of internet glasses is the next step in the evolution of smartphones. Since testing commenced, Google Glass has faced a storm of criticism. The most prominent objections come from data protection advocates who fear that Google Glass poses a risk to privacy.

Google Glass - innovation or privacy risk? © ferkelraggae-Fotolia

Google Glass – innovation or privacy risk? © ferkelraggae-Fotolia

What is Google Glass?

Google Glass combines a mini screen with a pair of glasses and allows the wearer to perceive his surroundings as a sort of extended reality (augmented reality). The glasses are controlled via voice command and enable HD videos to be filmed and shared over the internet.

The integration of navigational systems and information software also allow the users to access data via the internet about people, buildings or objects they are looking at.

Risk to privacy

However, the strengths of Google Glass are also its weakness.

The fact that wearers can record people without their knowledge represents an immeasurable risk to privacy. The ability to take snapshots and videos, means Google Glass’s main function could infringe people’s personality rights without them even knowing.

It could be argued that, in the context of smartphones and most cameras, this problem is not new. However, Google Glass adds a whole new dimension.

Google Glass banned

Google Glass may be suffering from image problems, before it even goes on sale. Many of those who have tested Google Glass are sceptical, saying that they would feel uncomfortable sitting across from a person wearing the glasses, as they would constantly worry about being filmed.

Casinos, cinemas and some bars have already banned Google Glass from their establishments. Other “Glass free” zones such as factories, offices and government buildings are also conceivable.

Data protection

In response to concerns about privacy, data protection commissioners from 10 countries, including the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and Israel, have written to Google boss Larry Page in a joint letter to try to obtain more information about Google Glass.

The letter seeks to find out what personal information Google plans to from users, how such data will be used and whether it will be passed on to third parties. The commissioners also want to know whether misuse of the glasses can be avoided.

Google’s reputation

Google’s reputation on data protection could be another reason for the growing scepticism surrounding Google Glass.

In recent years the company has paid fines for a number of privacy infringements, including accidentally recording data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks while taking photos for Google Street View.

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Christian Solmecke is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is the author of numerous legal publications in the area of internet and IT law. He is also an associate lecturer for social media law at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

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