Google CEO Larry Page simply doesn’t get it when it comes to privacy concerns about the Internet giant’s new computerized eyewear, Google Glass. He made that crystal clear at the annual shareholders’s meeting Thursday.
I made my annual trek to Mountain View to attend the Internet giant’s shareholder meeting and pose some questions directly to Google’s top executives. I said Glass is one of the most privacy invasive and Orwellian devices ever made because it allows a user to surreptitiously photograph or video us or our kids. “It’s a voyeur’s dream come true,” I said, before noting the hypocrisy in unleashing a device that enables massive violations of everyone else’s privacy, but operating under rules that barred cameras and recording devices from the meeting. Take a look at a video from the meeting.
“Obviously, there are cameras everywhere, ” responded Page. “”People worry about all sorts of things that actually, when we use the product, it is not found to be that big a concern.”
“You don’t collapse in terror that someone might be using Glass in the bathroom just the same as you don’t collapse in terror when someone comes in with a smartphone that might take a picture. It’s not that big a deal. So, I would encourage you all not to create fear and concern about technological change until it’s actually out there and people are using it and they understand the issues.”
Page tried to compare the video cameras on ubiquitous smartphones with Google Glass. That’s exactly the point. There is a huge difference. I don’t collapse in fear that I’ll be videoed in the bathroom by a smartphone camera precisely because it’s obvious that someone is using the camera. I can politely ask them to stop, or escalate my protests as appropriate if necessary. Indeed, consider this satirical video, “Supercharge”, featuring Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt if you don’t understand what I mean. It’s obvious Schmidt is invading the privacy of the gentleman in the next stall. Take a look at the video. You’ll see what I mean.
It doesn’t work that with Glass and that’s what is so creepy. There’s an app that snaps a photo with a wink. People have no idea that they are being photographed or videoed. That’s what people are worried about and they want the ability to delete videos and photos from Google’s database when they discover their privacy has been invaded.
Page says we shouldn’t worry about “technological change until it’s actually out there and people are using it.” He’s wrong. You need to to think about the impact before the technology is implemented. That’s what’s entailed in the concept of privacy by design, something that Google just doesn’t seem to get.
And here’s another point to ponder: As Google was holding its annual meeting, The Washington Post was breaking the details of NSA’s overreaching, intrusive snooping on users of some of the biggest Internet companies including Google with its PRISM program. Can’t you imagine a billion Glass users and a billion winks and the data that would flow to NSA?
Posted by John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.