07 June 2013

Google bans face recognition apps on Glass, lowers ceiling on device’s future

In its current state, there are two main issues Google Glass faces — usefulness, and privacy concerns. Google has spoken out about the latter, banning any facial recognition software from hitting the device, which in turn, unfortunately, hampers the former.
Currently, as we’ve covered previously, some see Google Glass as nothing more than a glorified camcorder that you wear on your face. It can’t connect to a data network on its own, so if you’re walking around on the street or live in a city where you take a subway to work, your face-device becomes severely limited — just like your phone does. However, people seem to overlook the limited applications of Glass either because they realize it’s a new kind of hardware trying to find steady footing, or because it’s a computer you can wear on your face and look like a character from Dragon Ball Z. What people don’t seem to overlook, though, is how easy it will supposedly be to take creepshots or video of unsuspecting victims since you don’t have to wave a phone in their direction if you’re wearing Glass. Whether or not you think snapping a photo of someone by yelling “Okay, Glass!” and intensely staring at them is less conspicuous than raising your phone in their direction is a topic that has been beaten to death.

Snapping creepshots isn’t as devious as Glass can get, though. Providing a Terminator-style HUD that can recognize real-world objects is where most of us see Google’s wearable computer ending up. In fact, your mom might already think that’s what Google Glass actually does. Obviously, some kind of object or facial recognition appearing on a tiny, personal screen could easily lead to a breach of privacy, so instead of allowing us all to hunt down John Connor by scanning people’s faces in a crowd, Google has banned facial recognition apps from its device.
Unfortunate news for people that want to feel like they live in a sci-fi future, but there’s still some hope. Google didn’t specifically say thatfacial recognition would never come to its eyewear, but rather said that the features could come to the device whenever “strong privacy protections” were put into place.
Google recently updated its Glass policies, adding restrictions that would prevent app developers from encroaching upon people’s privacy. One policy says that apps will be banned if they use the camera or mic to “cross-reference and immediately present personal information identifying anyone other than the user.” Another policy attempts to make creepshots a little more difficult by not allowing apps to turn off the device’s display while still having the camera active, so it doesn’t look like Glass is turned off while someone is taking covert pictures of you. Granted, the public doesn’t have Google Glass just yet, and popular creepshot websites — such as People of Walmart — are already so proficient at capturing clandestine images of strangers that they have received book deals. So, even though there’s not much Google can do to prevent secret photos since we’re already so good at taking them with our phones, at least the company is trying.
For now, it’s something of a shame that Google has to outright ban facial recognition apps, as that’s the kind of technology that Glass could use to really seem like future tech. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t much of a way to make sure that kind of feature doesn’t get out of hand, though it’s obvious Google is looking for that answer, as it’d certainly be a killer feature the consumer public hasn’t yet experienced.


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