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Google gives user data to FBI, rejects face recognition for Glass

Jun 02, 20134 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

A U.S. District Judge ordered Google to comply with NSLs and to hand over user data to the FBI. Google also banned Glass apps using facial recognition for now.

Although Google fought the FBI on 19 National Security Letters, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered Google to comply and hand over the confidential user data. CNET reported that “Illston all but invited Google to try again, stressing that the company has only raised broad arguments, not ones ‘specific to the 19 NSLs at issue.’ She also reserved judgment on two of the 19 NSLs, saying she wanted the government to ‘provide further information’ prior to making a decision.”

When the EFF challenged the constitutionality of NSLs on behalf of an unnamed telecommunications company, Judge Illston told the FBI to stop issuing NSLs because they “violate the First Amendment and separation of powers principles.” However, she gave the government 90 days to appeal to the Ninth Circuit, which the government did on May 6. Sadly, Judge Illston will be “stepping down” in July.

Meanwhile, in another Google privacy issue, Google decided that Glass will not include facial recognition technology for now…but that doesn’t mean it never will.  More than 200 commenters chimed in on Google+ where Project Glass announced:

When we started the Explorer Program nearly a year ago our goal was simple: we wanted to make people active participants in shaping the future of this technology ahead of a broader consumer launch.  We’ve been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass. As Google has said for several years, we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time. 

The Google Glass Face Recognition API by Lambda Labs was released in beta last year and about 1,000 developers are using it. Yet Google also updated its Glass policies and under “what you can’t do in your application,” it states “Don’t use the camera or microphone to cross-reference and immediately present personal information identifying anyone other than the user, including use cases such as facial recognition and voice print. Applications that do this will not be approved at this time.”

That may ease Glass privacy concerns somewhat for right now, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be Glassholes happy to invade people’s privacy. In April, Robert Scoble admitted to wearing Glass in about 20 public men’s restrooms without any of the men there objecting. Regarding taking video and photos, Scoble later said, “I counted how many seconds it takes to get my smartphone out of my pocket, open it up, find the camera app, wait for it to load, and then take a photo. Six to 12 seconds. With Google Glass? Less than one second.” He added that Glass “has changed my life. I will never live a day without it on.”

In May, the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page with eight Google Glass privacy questions. A reply is expected by June 14. 

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.