Google Inc’s wearable computer, the most anticipated piece of electronic wizardry since Apple Inc’s iPad and iPhone, will not go on sale for many months, but its critics are already in a lather.
The glasses-like device, which allows users to access the Internet, take photographs and film short snippets, has been pre-emptively banned by a bar in Seattle, Washington. Large parts of Las Vegas will not welcome wearers and West Virginia legislators tried to make it illegal to use the gadget, known as Google Glass, while driving.
“This is just the beginning,” said Timothy Toohey, a Los Angeles, California-based lawyer specializing in privacy issues. “Google Glass is going to cause quite a brawl.”
As personal technology becomes increasingly nimble and invisible, Glass is prompting questions of whether it will distract drivers, upend relationships and, above all, strip people of what little privacy they still have in public.
A pair of lens-less frames with a tiny computer attached to the right earpiece, Glass is promoted by Google as “seamless and empowering.” It will have the ability to capture any chance encounter, from a celebrity sighting to a grumpy salesclerk, and broadcast it to millions in seconds.
“We are all now going to be both the paparazzi and the paparazzi’s target,” said Karen Stevenson, a lawyer with Buchalter Nemer in Los Angeles.
Google stresses that Glass is a work in progress, with test versions now being released to 2,000 developers. Another 8,000 “explorers” handpicked by Google will soon get a pair.
Among the safeguards to make it less intrusive: You have to speak or touch it to activate it and you have to look directly at someone to take a photograph or video of them.
“We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues,” Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne said.
However, developers are already cracking the limits of Glass. One created a small sensation in tech circles last week with a program that eliminated the need for gestures or voice commands. To snap a picture, all the user needs to do is wink.
The 5 Point Cafe, a dive bar in Seattle, was apparently the first to explicitly ban Glass. In part it was a publicity stunt — an extremely successful one, as it garnered worldwide attention — but the bar’s owner, Dave Meinert, said there was a serious side. The bar was “kind of a private place,” he said.
The West Virginia legislators were not joking at all. The state banned texting while driving last year, but hands-free devices are permitted. That left a loophole for Google Glass. The legislation was introduced too late to gain traction before the most recent session ended, but its sponsor said he is likely to try again.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, a Caesars Entertainment spokesman said that computers and recording devices are prohibited in casinos.
“We will not allow people to wear Glass while gambling or attending our shows,” he said.
Glass is arriving just as the courts, politicians, privacy advocates, regulators, law enforcement and tech companies are once again arguing over the boundaries of technology in every walk of life.
The US Senate Judiciary Committee voted last month to require law enforcement to have a warrant to access e-mail, not just a subpoena. The FBI’s use of devices that mimic cellphone towers to track down criminals is being challenged in an Arizona case. A California district court recently ruled that private messages on social media were protected without a warrant.