Google Glass : pros or cons ?


Google Glass is very popular but do not receive general agreement. However this gadget has an incredible industrial value and some revolutionary concepts of use (e.g : e-Health, human interaction in other languages, etc.). However, it is, and will remain a cause of concern for consumer protection and privacy.

This article is intended for taking stock of the actual knowledge through  Internet media and the legal situation in several countries that already initiated preventive prohibitions (like USA, UK, France). Finally, a brief outline of the legal issues in swiss law will be approached.

Google GlassI.    Highly anticipated but also controversial

1.1  Introduction

Fans of tech inventions really look forward buying Google glass (hereinafter : “GG”) to see its real potential of use. In reference to the terms of a letter sent to Larry Page (CEO of Google) questioning him about the risks of GG on privacy, the features of these glasses could be shortly resumed as follows :

« Google Glass includes an embedded camera, microphone and GPS, with access to the Internet ».

Speculations about their use, features, but also about the risks and the legal drifts of the GG are the daily bread of journalists, bloggers and Internet users. The question so far would be : “how far could go Google with this new gadget” ?

8’000 Internet users have already worn them for the special amount of $ 1’500.- in several American towns. Wearing these glasses not only was a privilege. It was also a way of asking these lucky users to imagine and offer Google use suggestions. Instead of paying the users for their ideas, the Mountain view firm is reversing the situation into an original concept by making “paid crowsourcing”, as well as the Ads systems of the GG called « ADmented reality ».

While all the fans are awaiting Google Glass, the technical possibilities should frighten other people for obvious privacy matters. This sober and futuristic computer only standing on the tip of the nose, working with augmented reality deserve to be paid attention to !

1.2  Technical specifications

« Google Goggles » was not a success. However Google glass intend to be its evolution with a lot more advanced features. The introduction page of GG seems to show glasses with a camera, a microphone, an analyzing environment tool with voice or gesture control (e.g. : for the zoom) and would definitely be based on augmented reality technology.

1.3   Fields of application

GG potential could be really wide in several area of application as well as for private use or  professional use. The question is : will this tool be efficient enough to stand a full day in order to overcome human weaknesses or vaguenesses? Here are some of the possibilities we could imagine.

Private or professional use

Private use won’t be so different as a Smartphone use. It’s just lighter, it works thanks to the voice control application and it can be used without taking your hands out of the pocket.

Professional use should really be challenging and exciting. Any kind of job that would require human work with an extreme precision (clock/watch making, micro technology, medicine, surgery, etc.) or real-time complementary informations could be improved with GG, such as zoom functions, real-time data analyzing functions, more camera angle views displayed on the glass, etc.

Medical applications / e-Health

During a Surgery, a doctor could have a real-time access to medical analysis, or could see different angles of view taken from several cameras. The zoom function could also be interesting in this case…

E-Health will be one the most lucrative but also promising field of activity in terms of innovation, thus for the industry, IP, IT, medical and legal drifts, especially in Switzerland. You might have read news about the Insight function which is built to identify people by their clothes. A medical application used on GG could be a great advantage during an attempt of rescue (e.g. : road accident, etc.). Imagine a rescue worker or an ambulance man identifying the victim of the accident with the GG and accessing immediately to his medical files (checking the blood type, important disease, allergies, reactions, drug or antibiotic resistance, etc.) and respect self-determination of the patients (according to an advance directive).

That kind of technology should be developed with lots of precautions and this means people must be identifiable at a very great probability to avoid serious medical errors. The technique and the power of these glasses will have to be increased a lot to reach that level of feature in order to have a daily professional use. Furthermore lots of tests and legal agreements would be necessary to integrate them in public health programs, which is not going to happen tomorrow.

Other person like visually impaired could be helped by GG to move in the streets  (GPS navigation system, facial, objects or obstacles automatic recognition, etc.).

Other applications

There will be lots of challenge and opportunities for GG Video games, which could boost industry and friendly use of these glasses. A part from that, international federations of sport already thought about referee wearing those glasses during some match. Porno industry is obviously interested in developing features and Apps for the GG, such as the recent fake porn trailer available on the Internet. Some creative people also thought about wearing the GG during a job interview to analyze the candidate’s behavior and to seek candidate’s profile, past, network, and more… Lots of others ideas such as a nature walk, or getting his car back could also be imagined…

II.    The prohibition has already started

2.1   Fears about GG’s entry on the market

Despite lots of fun features and useful professional uses, people, but also organizations, worry about the entry of GG on the market. Fears are twofold.

One one side, there are legitimate worries about consumer and data protection for the active users of the GG. Risks for active users may be focused on targeted ads system (based on environment interaction) and direct or indirect surveillance “under Google glass” from the authorities or giant Internet firms.

On the other side, all the passive users of the GG (such as people in public places) will  be concerned about their privacy. Passive users protection would be necessary to prevent “undesirable screenshots” from a pedestrian, as well as undue audio or video recordings. Not only the main thing is that people won’t know they would be recorded or pictured, but also that they won’t be able to agree or not to a recording.

2.2   When the law comes before technology

GG won’t be tolerated in places where Smartphones, cameras or computer are already prohibited (cinema, banks, casinos, shows, hospitals, etc.). Nothing new under the sun.

Just the once will not hurt, and while GG are still in beta test, several public Organizations, private or little companies try to anticipate the take out of the store to prevent conflict situations.

Ten privacy Organizations, including Hanspeter Thür, the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC), and the French IT and Freedom National Commission (CNIL), sent a letter to Larry Page about concern for privacy, and the collect and use of user’s data by Google.

2.3  Precautionary prohibitions

In the United States of America, the Google Glass will be prohibited in Las Vegas, and in every Casino of the city. The Google glass will neither be allowed in Seatle at « 5 Point bar » which is the first bar to consider wearing GG as illegal before they are put on the market.

In United Kingdom, the spokesperson of the Britain Transport Minister said that GG will be banned for drivers because it would affect too much traffic behaviors even if their purpose is to help drivers with GPS functions.

West Virginia State and Delaware State (USA) are also working on a similar draft legislation to ban GG for drivers. Indeed, after the publication of an article on the website CNET entitled “The truth about driving under the influence of Google Glass“, public and political opinions have strongly reacted. As a result, these two government will probably establish rules to baned this gadget for drivers, but maybe for other use. A women already got ticketed for “distracted driving” because she was wearing the GG during driving.

In France, such glasses will automatically be banned for drivers according to article R412-6-2 of the French Road Code. This legislation provides that « Placing an operating device with a screen in the field of vision of the driver of a moving vehicle that do not constitute a driving or navigation aid is prohibited ».

A website entitled “Stop the Cyborgoffers to download a “Google Glass Ban” sign (pdf) for private places where the owner wants to ban it (bar, restaurant, etc). You can also check the list of ten places where Google Glass will be banned : on this website.

III.    Legal situation in Switzerland

3.1    Private or public context

If Google Glass is put on the swiss market, everyone should wear them without any problem in private context, such as with your family, friends, etc. Nevertheless, as soon as someone will wear the GG, everyone may be screenshoted without knowing it and without prior consent.

In a public place (bar, public transport, parc, demonstration, etc.), many sensitive issues will occur related to the use of GG, particularly regarding privacy, data protection and private sphere.

3.2   Data protection and privacy

3.2.1 Data gathering location and data processing

First of all, one of the most sensitive issue would be : What use will be made of all the data gathered by Google ? Even if connecting to Internet is a national issue (Internet provider with 3G and 4G and telecommunication providers), most of the information should automatically transit to Google servers to be stocked (at least temporarly) which means in the USA. As can be seen with PRISM case, it is not clear whether the local data (in non-US countries) are not scanned by the NSA. But all our data may be if they are sent to USA to Google servers. Maintain control on all your data might possible only if they are kept in your country, encrypted and if they do not transit through the Internet Giants (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc.). Hard to tell before having tested these glasses !

Personal data and private sphere

As soon as a image or sound is recorded, this may cause legal problems. One the fundamental principle is the right to self-determination. Consent is the cornerstone of data protection and is a ground of justification which makes lawful a privacy intrusion (such as data gathering and processing). Thus, data gathering without prior consent is illegal. Every GG user sitting in a bus or a metro taking pictures or filming someone would automatically infringe the Swiss Federal Law on Data Protection (article 12 LPD) or to the Swiss Civil Code (article 28 CC).

Swiss Criminal Law (Penal Code) also punishes unauthorized audio recordings (see article 179bis to 179septies  CP). It can lead to a fine or prison.

The Insight Function of the GG may also be very intrusive in everyone’s life, even if the data are gathered from pictures found on the Internet and uploaded by the users themselves.

3.2 Intellectual property

Second sensitive theme : Intellectual Property, such as trademarks, copyright (pictures, music, movies, books, etc.). Since prohibition in cinemas will be obvious,  the issue won’t be so easy with concerts, theaters or museums where controls are not systematic. Remember that according to Swiss Copyright Law provides legal private copying if the use is restricted to friends or family. Such right disappears when the source is illegal or if it is shared out of the private circle.

We can be sure that Google will set up copyright detection system, as it already exists with Youtube. We can trust it.

3.3 Traffic road

Since it seems to be debated in several countries, it may be interesting to examin this issue in Switzerland. As you would see further, swiss legislation seems more precise than french legislation about this prohibition.

Phone Call during driving

In Switzerland, cell phones during driving are prohibited. More specifically, the Swiss Federal Road Traffic Act (RTA) provides that « the driver has to remain constantly in control of the vehicle in order to respect all the prudence obligations (article 31 par. 1 RTA). The  driver would have to pay a CHF 100.- fine to have used his mobile without hands-free unit during the course » (article 3 al. 1 OAM).

In addition, the Federal Ordinance of the Trafic Road Act provides that : « the driver must pay attention to the road and to the traffic. He will avoid any activity which could make driving more difficult. He will also ensure that his attention would not be distracted, in particular not by a sound device nor by any communication or information device. It is established by the Federal Swiss Case Law (jurisprudence of the Swiss Supreme Court) that sending an SMS during driving is a severe infringement to Road Traffic Act (6B_666/2009) (article 90 par. 2 RTA) that may lead to a fine or a maximum three years jail sentence. 

What about Google Glass ?

Driving any vehicle require a perfect attention and visual acuity. Google Glass meet several scope of vision with notifications on one of the glasses. In reference to above-mentionned swiss legislation and jurisprudence, wearing GG will be illegal if it is harder to drive with, which it seems to be most likely possible. The Google Glass drivers could be receive a administrative penalty (withdrawel of the driving licence) and a penal sentence (fine or jail).

It would more secure to let the passenger wear them.

3.4 Criminal proceedings

Criminal proceedings and Surveillance legislations deserve also an attention.  The Swiss Federal about Surveillance of the Correspondence through Postal services and Telecommunication (LSCPT in french) allow Authorities to follow and monitor both individuals and companies suspected of charged for criminal offenses. Would it be allowed for Authorities to connect to the GG or ask Google data to proceed to a retrospective surveillance?

If the Investigation Authorities can monitor and record communications through Skype, which is the case in Switzerland, it will be technically possible with the GG. The problem is not how to do it, it is about collaboration. Will Google collaborate with the Swiss Criminal Authorities if they ask for it to resolve criminal cases? International mutual legal assistance in criminal matters is often a fatal obstacle when criminal offenses are committed through IT and New Technologies because the process is too slow. Furthermore, data retaining duration is not long enough to let Authorities have access to data before its erased (even if the duration will be lengthen to 12 months,  judgment 1B_128/2013 of the 8th of May 2013).

Other legislation such as liability or legal issue such as liability of the Internet intermediaries could enter in consideration, but I cannot write about all of them.

IV.  Concluding

After these conceptual and legal considerations, the impressions but also risks and abuses are mixed. If we were living on Thomas Moore’s Island, Google Glass marketing wouldn’t have any bad repercution in a society composed of exemplary and model citizens, benevolent companies.

Are Google Glass and the future competitors of these glasses going to make a technological revolution? Our daily habits will they be drastically changed to interact with the environment? Will 2014 be a progress year or are going to go back 30 years later (1984)?

Swiss legislation seems to be well prepared for the arrival of Google Glass and do not really need to be modified for the moment since lots of situations could be solved with actual law. Nevertheless we don’t really know what to say before they enter the market in Switzerland, which should not be before 2015 …

Stay tuned to see what will the USA authorites to when it will be on the market …