Earlier this evening, Google released this statement on Google+
Glass and Facial Recognition
When we started the Explorer Program nearly a year ago our goal was simple: we wanted to make people active participants in shaping the future of this technology ahead of a broader consumer launch. We’ve been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass. As Google has said for several years, we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time.
We’ve learned a lot from you in just a few weeks and we’ll continue to learn more as we update the software and evolve our policies in the weeks and months ahead.
My first question is, without a Glass “Market” of any sort, how is your approval relevant? So far the only apps I have seen that got the Google stamp of approval were big, official apps like New York Times, Twitter, Facebook and such. Even though Glass Tweet was one of the first pieces of Glassware available, it still has not been “reviewed by Google”. Nor has our own Glass to Facebook, even though it was available weeks ahead of the official Facebook Glassware. Nor has Glassnost, an independant app and photo-sharing community. In fact, it looks like the only Glassware Google is “approving” is from the big guys that help legitimize Glass!
Why do I make such accusations? I am an Android developer. I’ve spent the last few days at AnDevCon IV, the Android Developer Conference, and I attended 2 talks on privacy law given by Adam D. H. Grant of the Alpert, Barr and Grant law firm.
The permissions that you agree to when you download an app have the ability to do more than just operate the app. For instance an app that helps you find your car can also tell advertizers what locations you frequent. Now you’ll get ads that are more targeted to your movements.
It gets worse. Much worse. Here’s a slide from the presentation listing the data apps can collect:
Biometrics? Here’s a link for more information, but long story short, it means identifying you by your appearance. An app that has permission to access your photos can send them to the developer to sell to the highest bidder. Who would pay for your photos? Advertizers who want to know everything about you to so they can custom tailor ads to your every need.
But, frighteningly enough, anyone can buy those photos… even those who don’t have such wholesome intentions. I have about 10 photo editing apps on my phone, and I’m scared.
And then there’s #4 to worry about. And #5. And it’s legal!
The whole purpose of the presentation was to educate the group on how to CYA when gathering “PII” (Personally Identifiable Information). As long as the developer discloses their intention in the app, they are acting within the law.
And then there are people like me who assumed that such things could not even be possible. Alas, WRONG!
The speaker probably thought my outrage was sweet and naive. He laughed when I said “Who would do that to their customers? That’s dishonorable!” But heck, the whole thing really upsets me. For one thing, it makes developers like me look bad! For another, many of my compeditors are making big money with these horrible practices and are using that money to get a market advantage with advertizing.
So, all things considered, why is everyone so worried about Google Glass’s potential for facial recognition? Perhaps it’s a diversion. Create a stir around Glass so nobody will pay attention while the relavent privacy laws are being decided…?
You see, the APPS Act of 2013 is less than a month old. Here is Congressman Hank Johnson introducing it:
So maybe the people who make millions from advertizing want the public to be outraged about a new, futuristic device so maybe they won’t get concerned about their old, familiar cell phones. After all, our lives are on our phones. We capture moments with pictures, keep our records and contacts on it, we have it within reach 24 hours a day!
Kinda like finding a huge spider living under your bed.