Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam
The wider world is tuning in to the fact that Google Glass is hackable. If you've missed it, developers have been demonstrating how the device could be used to realize some of our greatest privacy nightmares, such as having our real-life identity made readily available to a Glass-wearing stranger on the street or being recorded by a Glass-clad onlooker without our knowledge or consent.
This revelation that Google Glass isn't impenetrable may worry anyone who fears that Google's futuristic, whiz-bang, Internet-capable eyewear represents a significant threat to American privacy. That includes members of Congress, who -- with a mix of grandstanding and technical ignorance -- recently demanded assurances from Google CEO Larry Page that Glass could not be used to infringe on the privacy of the average American. Much to the consternation of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), Google couldn't make outright assurances -- understandably so, for two key reasons.
First, Google can't ultimately control if a user violates someone's privacy with a Google Glass, just as AT&T can't control a nosy family member from listening in on your phone call from the upstairs line. Second, no matter the lengths Google goes to make Google Glass entirely secure, cyber criminals would find a way in if it were worth their time. From Android to Mac OS to Windows, every platform is hackable.
More important, there are more pressing security and privacy concerns than whether a cool, new wearable technology will become popular enough to be a serious malware target.
Reason No.1: Google can't control who's being snapped -- but nor can Apple or Nikon
We all understand that Google can't prevent you from, say, taking voyeuristic pictures of a neighbor with Google Glass any more than Smith & Wesson can prevent you from shooting the neighbor's cat with a Bodyguard 38 or Ford can prevent you from committing a traffic violation in a Focus. That's the price of our free-market society: We're willing to allow potentially dangerous products on the market -- cars, guns, gasoline, chemicals, insecticides, alcohol, computers, and so on -- because those risks (such as the ability to drive over 25mph) come with some value (such as the ability to drive to work in under two hours).
However, some critics of Google Glass believe the device crosses a new privacy line. Here's a question for folks who hold that view: Why is Google Glass any worse than today's smartphones? If you are willing to tolerate feature-rich, Internet-enabled smartphones -- which are miniature, powerful computers capable of surreptitiously taking high-resolution digital photos, recording private conversations, and tracking your comings and goings -- why are you worried about Google Glass? Someone with the right smartphone could potentially secretly record your actions as easily and as noticeably as someone wearing Google Glass.
Google recognizes potential points of concern, and the company explained some of the measures it's taking to reduce a Glass user's ability to violate a fellow citizen's privacy. Among them, the device requires voice activation to shoot video or images. Google also said it "will not be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time" and would "prohibit developers from disabling or turning off the display when using the camera."