When Google launched its brand-new tech gadget, Google Glass, the first people the company passed it off to were a few thousand hackers. It had its reasons. Thad Starner, a professor of computer science at Georgia Tech and a manager at Google Glass, explained that its Google Glass hackers are doing Google a great service by "teaching us what these issues are and how we can address them."
But hackers have the power to do evil, as well as good. Because Google Glass users essentially have hidden cameras stuck to their faces, it's harder to tell if they're recording or not. Snapping pictures and taking videos on cellphones is pretty obvious, but with Google Glass it isn't.
Google Glass uses display technology to put data in front (or at least, to the upper right) of your vision courtesy of a prism screen. Although the original technology has tried to respond to these fears by requiring users to issue a voice command or tap their temple before the screen lights up, hackers can get around that, too. Michael DiGiovanni created Winky, a program that allows you to capture a still of whatever you're looking at with a simple wink of the eye. Kind of creepy, kind of cool.
And the potential privacy problems don't stop there. Although Google says it will not allow apps that implement facial recognition on its product, (and changed its terms of service to ban them), that hasn't prevented technology geeks like Stephen Balaban from developing these apps anyway. Balaban told NPR blogger Steve Henn, "Essentially what I am building is an alternative operating system that runs on Glass but is not controlled by Google."
We can only hope that the prediction made by Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington who specializes in new technologies and privacy, comes true — that these new technologies will spur more conversations in the public sphere about privacy in the digital age.
Curious to know more about what Google Glass can do? Here's a promo video with some examples: