So far Google Glass is illegal exactly nowhere, despite a front-page story in today's New York Times that suggests Google is already facing a bunch of legal pushback over its face computer of the future. What will Google do about all this? After all, "This is just the beginning," as a Los Angeles privacy lawyer tells Times's David Streitfeld. "Google Glass is going to cause quite a brawl." It's unclear how true that is, of course, because there hasn't been much actual courtroom brawling so far — mostly just Internet whining, really.
The Times cites this proposed bill from West Virginia statehouse politicians who "were not joking at all" about a ban on Glassing-while-driving. Except the bill seriously hasn't made it to the house floor yet. And while the Times cites the bill's sponsor in saying he's "likely" to reintroduce the legislation, well, Rep. Gary Howell has also said that he will introduce a study resolution to see how dangerous Google Glass really is. You know, in the meantime, and in the reality outside front-page privacy freak-out trend stories: "If we do that, I would like to invite Google to provide a demonstration and explain if they will have some type of feature that will turn off everything," Howell has said, in addition suggesting that he's open to other alternatives outside of the anti-Google Glass law.
But even if Howell takes his law back to the West Virginia laboratories of democracy and it passes, that hardly makes Google's new device illegal. After all, according to the Times, this is "the most anticipated piece of electronic wizardry since the iPad and iPhone" we're talking about here. And by the logic of the Times's scare tactics, cell phones would be considered illegal in all these states that ban use while driving. Even the group Stop the Cyborgs, which has launched an anti-Glass campaign, doesn't want to outright ban the devices. "We don't want a total ban but do we want people to limit it's use," the group insists (in bold), in the About section of its website. While other, logical places — like strip clubs, or casinos — have banned Google Glass, people don't necessarily need laws or formal prohibitions to tell them how to properly regulate their usage of the world's foremost walking computer. Already a whole bunch of people have written about their inclination to have specific etiquette while using Google Glass.
However, even Google admits that its much discuss hardware is still in beta — and that the company is open to changes to better suit our apparently myriad privacy fears. That's basically all the Stop the Cyborgs of the world want, anyway. The Cyborgs group has three main points suggesting ways in which Google can build in enough privacy to placate the interests of privacy hawks the tech world over:
- They will never allow any face recognition system or any app which automatically identifies people to work on Google Glass or on any server system connected to Glass.
- They will implement a do not track system which allows people to opt out of being tracked or having information captured about them by Glass. This system should not require the person to identify themselves.
- That all information gathered by Glass will remain the property of the owner or subject and will be encrypted so that it is impossible for it to be data-mined, made available to security services or used for commercial purposes.
Google chief Eric Schmidt sounds equally as open to those kind of changes himself. "I think you're describing a world of tracking which I think is highly unlikely to occur, because people will be upset about it in the same way you are," Schmidt said in response to a question about the scary future of data-tracking that Google will help create. He continues:
Governments won't allow it, and it'll be bad business. And ultimately, in a competitive market, companies want the consumers to be happy. So it's true tracking in this context...you're taking a much broader view of the word ['tracking'] than any I would use. A situation where you go to people and say, 'Oh, here's our phone, and we're going to track you to death,' people are not going to buy that phone. It's just a bad business model.