Lawmakers seek Google Glass privacy plan

Open letter to Google CEO Page seeks information on plans for data collection and use of facial recognition tech

Eight members of Congress have written an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page that outlines privacy concerns about the Internet vendor's computerized eyeglasses, Google Glass.

In the letter, the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus ask Page to disclose Google's plan to incorporate privacy protections into Glass by June 14. The group asked that Page answer eight questions listed in the letter.

The letter was signed: Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas); Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Rep. Henry C. "Hank" Johnson Jr. (D-Ga.), Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.).

"As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American," the group wrote. "Because Google Glass has not yet been released ... there are still a number of unanswered questions that we share."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said he's not surprised that lawmakers are starting to ask questions about Glass, which is still in development.

"I think all of the questions are valid, but these could be questions about smartphones, too," he added. "What's so hard to determine about this letter, though, is if this is driven by a true desire to protect the public, or if it's motivated by anti-Google lobbies or politician grand-standing."

A few thousand developers and very early adopters are currently testing the technology. Google is looking to get Glass into the hands of about another 8,000 more early adopters in the next few months.

The Google Glass computerized eyeglasses are designed with a translucent screen slightly above the right eye. The screen can display the weather, Gmail messages, directions, news alerts and other information. The user can send emails or text and do searches. The device can be manipulated by touch, gesture or voice control.

The glasses already have raised some concerns about privacy and digital etiquette.

A Seattle cafe and Caesar's Palace have already banned the use of the device from their locations.

Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, has said that computerized glasses require a discussion about when and where they should be used.

The letter from the Privacy caucus notes how Google has dealt with privacy issues in the past and then asks how company executives plan to keep Glass from collecting data without the user's consent.

"Would Google Glass collect any data about the user without the user's knowledge and consent," the lawmakers wrote. "If so, why? If not, please explain."

The letter also asks whether Glass will use facial recognition technology to identify people that the user sees out in public, and whether Google plans any changes or additions to its privacy policy to deal with the Glass technology.

Moorhead expects that Google will quickly answer the questions in an effort to calm members of Congress.

"Google will need to establish and publicly provide this information or risk a subpoena to testify before Congress," Moorhead said. "I believe they will answer these questions as to not drag their name through the mud on live C-SPAN."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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