Are You Taking My Picture or Trying to Pick Me Up? Google Glass and Privacy Concerns

Are You Taking My Picture or Trying to Pick Me Up? Google Glass and Privacy Concerns

Written by: Corinne Dowling Burzichelli

Imagine yourself at the local coffee shop when a cute guy or girl in glasses winks at you. Today this is clearly a cheesy but flirtatious gesture – tomorrow, another possible explanation is that some cutie just took your picture.[1] This new social situation is in the near future as wearable computers are on the horizon and pose more problems than just trying to figure out if you are flattered or creeped out by the coffee shop wink.

Google Glass is a wearable computer that looks like ordinary glasses, but has a modern twist – it includes a small camera and computer at the edge of the lens that continues along the temple.[2] Wearable computers are a new frontier in both the technological and legal fields. They allow for hands-free messaging, navigating, internet searching, image and video capturing, as well as live access to social media apps and many others features that will be discrete and instantly accessible to the user.[3] As this technology becomes more mainstream, new privacy concerns will arise, because these devices require even less notice and consent than any current popular technology.[4] Potentially problematic features include the discrete photo and film capability[5] and facial recognition apps[6] where subjects will have no idea they are being targeted.[7] While presently the Google Glass may not be totally inconspicuous, its competition is working to produce a similar system that will be indistinguishable from normal glasses.[8] These new technologies instigate questions, such as whether old regulations and protections will be sufficient to control “wearable technology,” and how these technologies will affect our world.

A good starting place is Google Glasses’ predecessor – the smart phone. This more primitive technology possesses the ability to take somewhat covert photos and videos and use them in conjunction with other potentially intrusive measures, for example-facial recognition apps that utilize Facebook photos.[9] Not surprisingly, these capabilities, and specifically these facial recognition apps have encountered serious security problems that even led Facebook to acquire and discontinue one start up facial recognition app.[10]

Ultimately, these present concerns will be overshadowed when wearable computers enter the market. Designed to be discrete and less detectable, wearable computers will allow users to record, analyze, and archive photos, faces, locations, and events with little to no outward indication[11]. These systems will give virtually no notice to the person or place being targeted and require no consent as the program’s collection and processing of data is invisible by design. [12]

In addressing the notice issues with apps that allow users to potentially invade another individual’s privacy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that developers of apps create alternatives to their current privacy policies.[13] Potential solutions may include data use icons, privacy dashboards, and just-in-time privacy disclosures.[14] However, it seems more aggressive measures will eventually be necessary when wearable computers become common place, as the protections, like an individual’s ability to see when others are taking pictures, will become non-existent.

[1] Iwan Uswak, Google Glass controlled by winking – code, hardware and official google info, Glass-Aps.org (Apr. 22, 2013), http://glass-apps.org/google-glass-controlled-by-winking (revealing “[i]t is possible that Google Glass will be controlled by a wink. For example to trigger taking a photo rather by a wink than by talking to yourself”).

[2]Glass, Google, http://www.google.com/glass/start/ (last visited October 2, 2014).

[3]Glass, Google, https://www.google.com/glass/start/what-it-does/ (last visited October 2, 2014).

[4] Yana Welinder, Facing Real-Time Identification in Mobile Apps & Wearable Computers, 30 Santa Clara Computer & High Tech. L.J. 89, 101 (2013) (discussing the potential implications of automatic facial recognition using mobile apps and wearable computers).

[5]Glass, Google, https://www.google.com/glass/start/what-it-does/ (last visited October 2, 2014).

[6] Welinder, supra note 4, at 93 – 101 (continuing the discussion of the implications of automatic facial recognition using mobile apps and wearable computers).

[7] Chris Matyszczyk, Creepy Google Glass pics without anyone knowing? Yes, you can, CNET (Nov. 16, 2013 12:13 PM PST), http://www.cnet.com/news/creepy-google-glass-pics-without-anyone-knowing-yes-you-can/ (discussing how additional accessories to Google Glass make it possible to disguise when the camera in use).

[8] Welinder, supra note 4, at 99.

[9] Id. at 95-97.

[10] See Ashkan Soltani, Facepalm, AshkanSoltani (June 18, 2012), http://ashkansoltani.org/2012/06/18/facepalm/ (“Face.com essentially allowed anyone to hijack a KLIK user’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to get access to photos and social graph (which enables “face prints”), even if that information isn’t public”). Steven Musil, Facebook Shuts Down Face.com APIs, Klik App, CNET News (Aug. 23, 2014), http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57468247-93/facebook-shuts-down-face.com-apis-klik-app/.

[11] See Matyszczyk, supra note 7.

[12] See Welinder, supra note 4, at 101.

[13] .  See Fed. Trade Comm’n, Mobile Privacy Disclosures: Building Trust Through Transparency 17-18 (2013), http://www.ftc.gov/os/2013/02/130201mobileprivacyreport.pdf (discussing how “Apple and Google utilize icons to signal to consumers when an app is accessing their geolocation information”).

[14] See Id.

Author: Corinne Dowling Burzichelli

Corinne Burzichelli is an Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal. She graduated summa cum laude from Rutgers University – New Brunswick in 2013 with a major in Communication and a minor in History. While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Corinne was a Lipper intern at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, and was a Research Assistant for both the history department and an educational research study. Additionally, Corinne completed a senior thesis on Holocaust Survivors’ use of language in video testimonies, entitled Speaking the Unspeakable: Accounting in Holocaust Narratives. In the summer of 2014, she interned at the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey for the Honorable Freda L. Wolfson. Currently, Corinne is a member of the Jessup International Moot Court Team.