Google glass and more privacy issues

January 6, 2014 |

Google and privacy.  Rarely a good fit, whether as a noun or adjective.  In Glass, Hats and Persistent Privacy Violations Wired reports on the privacy invasive actuality (not potential) of google caps/hats/glasses.  This technology, like drones, highlight the lacuna in the law.  Inadequate common law protections, a Privacy Act which would not be applicable for vast majority of users and no statutory right of privacy.

The article provides:

HAMBURG – In a perfect future, Stephen Balaban wants plenty of people to be wearing his Lambda Hat, a soon-to-be-released baseball-hat version of Google Glass. But even he has mixed feelings about the results.

Speaking here at the 30th annual Chaos Communication Congress, a conference that puts the highest premium possible on privacy, Balaban offered an uncomfortable reminder of the tradeoffs associated with the rise of ubiquitous computing, including his own use of his own product’s prototype.

“The sheer amount of data one can collect is frightening,” he said. “We don’t have the framework to deal with this from a legal perspective.”

If Glass-wearing faces are becoming less of a novelty in and around Silicon Valley, the devices remain unfamiliar here on German streets. In a country where Google’s Street View is often rendered useless by blurred-out facades – the result of requests that private homes be taken out of the system – the prospect of bystanders surreptitiously filming or photographing their surroundings is even more controversial than in the United States.

In his talk to the Chaos Computer Club here, Balaban outlined the myriad privacy violations that could result from hacks of the Glass or similar systems.

While facial recognition remains relatively primitive, advances are being made that will make this a real possibility in the relatively near future, he said. His own company’s face recognition API for Glass is a step in this direction.

But even today, the ability to recognize license plates while on the road is perfectly feasible. A program linking license-plate-recognition to GPS information, for example, would not be difficult to build.

Moreover, the ability to process massive amounts of visual data is also falling within ordinary citizens’ technological means, he said.

A 2012 joint Stanford-Google project using 16,000 computer processors produced a neural network system that taught itself to recognize cats in YouTube videos in just three days. This was a significant demonstration of how far neural nets had progressed in recent years. But a University of Toronto project has essentially replicated these results using just a few processing units, Balaban said, if taking several more days to complete work.

“The ability to process data, and tease out interesting things like faces or license plates, is available to everyone now, not just large organizations,” he said.

Google Glass’s relatively short battery life makes persistent recording or surveillance impractical for significant durations. But Balaban’s own device, the Lamda Hat has a Glass-like camera and Android-based processing functions built into the brim, and a battery that provides considerably more working time than Google’s glasses.

Showing a “lifestream” set of photographs at the CCC conference – a stream of everything he had seen, captured at several-second intervals, for an entire day – he said he had his own concerns about the technology’s implications. The photos clearly had the potential to show passwords, credit card numbers, and other highly private material.

“It’s frightening, to be honest,” he said. “I thought, ‘My god, what have I done, this is a horrible idea.’”

Horrible, maybe – but he is pursuing it nonetheless. Already seeking production in facilities in China, his Lambda Labs is close to taking pre-orders for the $255 device.

So what to do? How to reconcile this obvious conflict between new technology and lost privacy? The answer remains unclear. Open systems like Balaban’s may prevent photos of faces and other private data from being uploaded automatically to Google or other corporate databases. But that won’t help people whose images are captured without their permission.

This prospect was a clear concern to CCC attendees. Asked by a member of the Dutch Pirate Party whether any legislation could protect both the right to use the new technology and people’s rights to privacy, Balaban admitted himself puzzled.

“The only thing I hate more than people surreptitiously recording me is people telling me what I can or cannot do with my technology,” he said. “But I think I would be more on the side of having control over your device.”



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