Will Google Glass Cause Traffic Accidents & Create Privacy Issues?

by Law Guru on December 4, 2013

It’s almost weird enough to be science fiction, but we’ve learned by now that technology has made almost anything possible. Google’s new wearable computer, “Glass,” is a little kooky, a little awesome, and a lot controversial. The easy-to-use invention features an adjustable and bendable frame, nose pads for comfort, a customizable fit, a touchpad along the side of the frame and a small screen in the upper right corner of the user’s field of vision. Aside from putting a virtual universe right before your eyes at all times, Glass’s most interesting feature is that it allows you to speak into existence a desired Google search, picture or video. “Okay, Glass, take a picture.” “Okay, Glass, how long is the Holland Tunnel?” “Okay, Glass, search my agenda for ‘lunch with Brian’.”

Glass isn’t without its kinks, of course. Poor battery life, high cost, a flimsy frame and social unacceptability are only some of the reasons why some are predicting that the device will fail to sell. Others, however, foretell high demand and millions of sales. Time will tell. The device should be released to the public sometime in 2014 for an as-yet unannounced price. For the moment, the beta version is only available to a select few for $1,500 a pair.

Photo by Giuseppe Costatino

Glass and Driving

With news of the first traffic violation ticket issued to a Glass user, people are speculating about the safety ramifications of Google Glass being used on the road. Three states have already introduced legislation to ban the use of Glass while driving. Google, predictably, has attempted to head off safety concerns by advising caution while driving with Glass. There are several ways that Glass may change the way we drive, but the key word there is “may.” We don’t really know how Glass will impact driving safety until it is extensively researched and tested behind the wheel. For now, speculations range from “Glass will impede vision and add distractions” to “Glass will make driving safer by removing the need to look down at a GPS and the temptation to text with a handheld device”. It would be prudent to withhold final judgment until more data is available.

Google Glass and Cars

Will Google Glass one day be implemented with our cars navigation and internet systems? Mercedes is anticipating the need for not only internet and iPhone implementation for cars, but Google Glass as well. “We definitely see wearable devices as another trend in the industry that is important to us,” explained Johann Jungwirth, Head of Mercedes North American. Will implementing Google Glass for cars “catch on” with car manufacturers just as internet has in the recent past?

Ford is developing in-car Wifi, referred to as MyFord for release very soon. BMW already provides in-car wifi with a snap-in LTE card. The Rolls Royce Ghost also has an interior hotspot – this one is located in the rear area. Car and Driver estimates that, “In 5 years 25% of cars will be connected to the internet”.

Glass and Privacy

Even though safety concerns when driving has caused it’s share of commotion, the greatest stir surrounding Google Glass’s advent to the technology arena centers on a privacy question: Does Google Glass invade your privacy?

One of the great concerns with Google Glass is that the user can capture pictures without the subjects’ knowledge. This will be a major concern when you can command Glass to take a picture by simply thinking, “Take a picture.” When technology masters that, we can officially panic. However, as it stands now, you must either (a) make a movement to touch the capture button (while staring uncomfortably at the subject of your picture), or (b) speak a voice command: “Okay, Glass, take a picture.” Neither of these is less conspicuous — in fact, they are arguably more conspicuous — than the effort required to capture a picture with a normal smartphone. (Incidentally, the phrase “normal smartphone,” when smartphones have been popular for less than a decade, has to make you wonder what we’ll be debating in another ten years when we use the phrase, “normal wearable computer” — just for a little perspective.)

Video can be captured in a more clandestine manner by starting video capture before you are observed. However, the screen is visible from both sides, so anyone standing near the device can see what’s being recorded. Let’s also recall that Google Glass is anything but subtle in design. In fact, it lands more on the “incredibly dorky” than sleek and cool side of things. It may not be odd enough to prevent its widespread use — after all, bluetooth headsets have gained social acceptance — but it’s definitely visually obvious enough to make it less of a privacy threat.

Photo by Michael Praetorius

When it comes to private property, some owners feel the privacy invasion of Glass is a real threat to their customers. Understandably, they don’t want YouTube videos going viral the next day. One Seattle bar has already banned Google Glass from their establishment, saying, “It’s OK if you wear them. I just don’t want them worn inside.”

Above all, let’s remember that, while Google Glass is something new that may streamline some aspects of smartphone technology, it really doesn’t introduce any new threats at this point. Everything it accomplishes can already be accomplished with a smartphone. The differences are that the location of the touchpad is closer to the face, and Glass’s functions can also be performed through voice commands. While these differences may take some getting used to, they don’t fundamentally change the way we share or protect information.

Law Guru

Law Guru

If it's law related, we're interested and will certainly be writing about it. Just give us time!

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