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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Privacy Officials Worldwide Press Google About Glass

Ten government privacy and data protection officials from seven countries have asked Google to address privacy concerns related to its wearable computing device, Glass.

The letter was sent to Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, by 10 commissioners from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Israel and Switzerland. It comes after a letter sent by eight members of Congress in May raising similar questions abot Glass and privacy.

“We would be very interested in hearing about the privacy implications of this new product and the steps you are taking to ensure that, as you move forward with Google Glass, individuals’ privacy rights are respected around the world,” the officials wrote.

Glass, which is not yet available to the public, tethers to a user’s cellphone and has much of the same functionality, like text messaging and phone calls. It can also take photos and record video hands-free, and apps from news organizations, social networks, Google Maps and others send alerts and updates to a screen above the user’s right eye.

The officials raised fears of “ubiquitous surveillance” and asked about Google’s privacy safeguards, what it plans to do with the data the devices collect and how it is addressing “the broader social and ethical issues” raised by Glass. They lamented that Google has not yet reached out to data protection authorities to discuss the privacy implication! s of Glass.

Mr. Page addressed similar questions at Google’s shareholders meeting this month, where he made his first public comments about the issue. He said that many people already carried cellphone cameras everywhere they go, and that Glass was no different.

“People worry about a lot of things that, when we use the products, don’t turn out to be an actual concern,” Mr. Page said.

Many people at Google wear Glass, he said. “When you go into the bathroom, you don’t collapse in terror that people might be wearing these in the bathroom, just like you don’t collapse in terror that someone will hold up a cellphone in the bathroom.”

“I would encourage you not to create fear and concern about technological change until it’s out there and we understand the issues,” Mr. Page said.

Susan Molinari, Google’s vice president for public policy, responded this month to the members of Congress. She wrote that Glass would not include facial recognition, users would be able to wipe data from the device if it was misplaced or stolen and that Google was relying on early users currently testing the device to help the company shape the discussion about it.

In the letter, the privacy commissioners said they wanted a demo of the as-yet-unavailable product.

“Would Google be willing to demonstrate the device to our offices and allow any interested data protection authorities to test it?” they asked.