On April 2013, Google introduced its much talked about product named “Google Glass” to the United States (US). Google Glass, which was released to the world in May 2014, almost one year after its first appearance, is an eyewear technology that encapsulates all the features of a modern computer inside a pair of eyeglasses (Phoenix, 2014).as
The videos “Project Glass: one Day…” and “How it Feels [through Google Glass]”, released by Google to promote the product’s features, create a profile of a useful, enjoyable and harmless device. However, it is highly debatable whether these videos capture the full range of potential uses of this technology.
In the contemporary world, the rapid development of digital devices such as Google Glass escalates the controversy over whether laws can adequately protect people’s privacy rights against the intrusion of digital technology. People worry more than ever about their privacy, since the ways in which someone’s life and personal data can be exposed have been alarmingly increased. The protection of privacy is directly related to the capture and preservation of personal data, especially information such as political, religious, philosophical beliefs, sexual orientation and health status.
The introduction of the product in the markets raised concerns over ethics, people’s safety and violation of their privacy rights. Its use in public has been intensively criticized as a threat against individuals’ privacy since among other options, the wearers can record videos or take pictures of whatever they see through the lens including people’s faces, actions and conversations.
In the view of these arguments, Google issued an official etiquette guide that aims to inform and advise consumers on how to properly use Google Glass in public without being disturbing and violating the privacy of others.
Even though the introduction of this guide shows a minor attempt by Google to protect privacy rights, it is likely that the guide by itself is not enough to prevent wearers from capturing private information of other people without consent.
Laws on Privacy
Both International and European Laws establish the right to privacy as a fundamental right, vital for the preservation of human dignity in a democratic society. Private life is inextricably linked with the free development of human personality.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in Articles 12 and 17 respectively, both explicitly include people’s rights to privacy in their provisions. Particularly, according to UDHR Article 12:
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
European laws have also enshrined people’s rights to private life in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) as well as in Article 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. ECHR Article 8 sets out the requirements of intervention in the private lives of individuals and clarifies that only a public authority can intervene in people’s privacy under the law. Necessary reasons for intervention include: protection of national security, public safety and economic prosperity of the country, defense of policy, prevention of criminal offenses, protection of public health and morality, and protection of rights and freedoms of others.(1 Crown Office Row, n.d.)
With aim to create a comprehensive data protection system across Europe, in 1980 the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the “Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Trans-Border Flows of Personal Data” (that have been since revised in 2013). The principles governing protection of privacy include core information in regard to the protection of data subjects (Soma et al, 2004, pp.175-77).
Based on the OECD Guidelines, data subjects need to give their consent for their data to be collected. They must also be aware of who collected their data and why their data needs to be collected (Soma et al, 2004, p. 176). Despite the fact that the OECD Guidelines were nonbinding and the country supported its principles, the US did not take any action to put them into effect (Shimanek, 2001, p.463)
In a 1981 effort to strengthen individuals’ fundamental liberties and rights, especially the right to privacy, the Council of Europe adopted the “Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data”. The convention requires the member states to pass legislation regarding the automatic processing of personal data. The convention which is open for signatory to all the countries around the world has been ratified by all member-countries of the Council of Europe apart from Turkey and San Marino. Sadly, with the sole exception of Uruguay, no other country outside the Council of Europe has ratified it yet.
In EU Data Protection Laws, individuals’ fundamental rights relating to the right to privacy and protection of personal data are mainly covered by the Directive 95/46/EC, widely known as the 1995 Data Protection Directive (DPD). The EU Data Protection Law declared its respect to the principles of the Charter and especially to Article 8 of the ECHR. DPD explicitly includes in its Preamble the importance of protection of the fundamental rights, mainly the right to private life.
Article 2 [a] of the DPD defines “Personal data” as:
“any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (“data subject”); an identifiable person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identification number or to one or more factors specific to his physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity;”
On Paragraph [b] of the same article the term “processing of personal data” is defined as:
“any operation or set of operations which is performed upon personal data, whether or not by automatic means, such as collection, recording, organization, storage, adaptation or alteration, retrieval, consultation, use, disclosure by transmission, dissemination or otherwise making available, alignment or combination, blocking, erasure or destruction.” (DPD, Art.2)
Processing of personal data is allowed when it is subject to the principles of proportionality (DPD, Ch. II Art. 6, 8, 14, 15), transparency (DPD Ch. II Art. 7, 10, 11, 12) and legitimate purpose (DPD, Ch. II Art. 6[b]), which are broadly explained in Chapter two of the DPD. Whenever one of those requirements is met, the personal data can be lawfully processed (Edwards, 2009, p. 453).
International and European laws have given central value on the consent of people when their data is processed. According to DPD Article 2[h], “the data subject’s consent [means] any freely given specific and informed indication of his wishes by which the data subject signifies his agreement to personal data relating to him being processed”
At this point one should consider whose personal data and privacy are under the threat of wearable devices like Google Glass. Is it the data of the person wearing the device or that of a third party? Even though the answer is both, the basic difference is that the Google Glass wearer has the ability to give his/her consent about the processing of his/her data in contrast with the third party that could be totally ignorant about the situation (his/her data being processed).
As of 2014, more than one hundred countries have introduced comprehensive legislation regarding the protection of individuals’ personal data, as noted in Privacy International’s official website. Nevertheless, the challenge is that data protection laws are not applied everywhere equally. Even before Google Glass’s release, many European countries, including Spain, the UK and others, cast doubts on its legality based on their existing privacy laws (Garside, 2013). Furthermore, the Article 29 Working Party wrote a letter to Google CEO Larry Page questioning the rising concerns on privacy rights regarding the use of Google Glass.
In some cases, Google Glass users have said that they have accepted a verbal or even physical attack because of wearing Glass in public, while several facilities such as restaurants, bars and casinos have prohibited use of Google Glass within their premises (Vazquez, 2014 & Grey, 2013). For example, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) made an announcement that their prohibition policy, which does not allow the use of cameras and mobiles, also applies to wearable devices such as Google Glass (Motion Picture Association of America, 2014).
News reports reveal that the public interest on the product has declined. Possible reasons for the decline include: cost, privacy, safety and health concerns. Regarding the health issue, it has been reported that there were incidents of severe headaches or eye pain during its use (Jack Smith Iv, 2014). Other cases were recorded where people wearing their Glass while driving put other peoples’ lives and safety in danger (Griggs, 2013 & Chaey, 2013). A study conducted by the University of Central Florida found that using Google Glass while driving can be the same dangerous and distractive for drivers as using smartphones (Zkotala, 2014). Even though when wearing Google Glass while driving one does not use his/her hands, this does not limit the risks on the safety of wearers and the others around them. Based on the findings of a University of California’s study, Google Glass significantly limits the drivers’ vision, endangering pedestrians’ and other drivers’ lives (Knapton, 2014 & Gray, 2014). As Dr. Edward Koo, a clinical ophthalmologist at the University of California San Francisco said “The Google Glass hardware produces a significant blocking effect of the right peripheral vision […] the defect would not be compensated by the left eye and thus may negatively impact daily activities such as driving, cycling and running.”(Knapton, 2014 & Gray, 2014)
Apart from the outburst of privacy concerns that surrounded Google Glass, the high cost of the device, 1.500 dollars as of November 2014, is certainly one obstacle that prevents potential buyers from purchasing the device (Oreskovic et al, 2014). After almost two years since its introduction, the high-priced wearable device did not have the fate that its developers expected. Whether Google Glass will continue to affect peoples’ privacy rights largely depends on Google’s decision to abandon the product or make another effort to win the market by lowering its price. Google Glass marks only the beginning of advanced digital technologies that can deeply affect people’s privacy. Privacy laws should adjust towards the contemporary norms and expand their rules more in order to restrict the enormous threat of these technologies against individuals’ privacy.
1 Crown Office Row. Article 8, Right to private and family life. UK Human Rights Blog Retrieved from: http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/incorporated-rights/articles-index/article-8-of-the-echr/
Chaey, C. (2013). California Driver Gets a Ticket for Wearing Google Glass Behind the Wheel. Fast Company (Fast Company & Inc). Retrieved from: http://www.fastcompany.com/3020899/fast-feed/california-driver-gets-a-ticket-for-wearing-google-glass-behind-the-wheel
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, OJEC 2012/C 326/02 Retrieved from: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3b70.html
Council of Europe. (1981). Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data. Council of Europe Treaty Series 108
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Edwards, L. & Hatcher, J. (eds.). Law and the Internet. 3rd ed. North America (USA and Canada): Hart Publishing
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Gibbs, S. (2014). Google puts Glass on sale in the US – for $1,500 and one day only. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/11/google-glass-on-sale-us
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Griggs, B. (2013). Lawmaker: Google Glass and driving don’t mix. CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/tech/innovation/google-glass-driving/index.html?hpt=hp_c3
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IV, S. J. (2014). Google’s Eye Doctor Admits Glass Can Cause Pain. Betabeat. Retrieved from: http://betabeat.com/2014/05/googles-eye-doctor-admits-glass-can-cause-pain/#ixzz3K674Tvb7
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Oreskovic, A. et al (2014). Google Glass future clouded as some early believers lose faith. Reuters. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/14/us-google-glass-insight-idUSKCN0IY18E20141114
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Phoenix, W. (2014).Why Isn’t Google Glass Huge By Now? — ‘The Why’. American Live Wire. Retrieved from: http://americanlivewire.com/2014-11-19-isnt-google-glass-huge-now/
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Vazquez, J, (2014). Woman Wearing Google Glass Says She Was Attacked In San Francisco Bar. CBSSF. Retrieved from: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/02/25/woman-wearing-google-glass-says-she-was-attacked-in-san-francisco-bar/