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Google doesn't plan to change its privacy policy for Glass

Glass may be a revolutionary device, but that doesn't mean Google plans to overhaul its unified privacy policy

Google Glass may be a new and innovative product with the potential to change the world, but one thing that won't change because of Glass is the search giant's unified privacy policy.

The company said "no changes to the Google Privacy Policy are planned for Glass," in a recent letter to members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus. The letter, dated June 7 but only released on Monday, was a response to Congressional privacy hawks who asked Google for more details about Glass and its privacy implications back in May.

Privacy groups have raised a number of concerns about Glass in recent months as the new technology has become available to early adopters, developers, and critics through Google's Explorer program. One of the biggest concerns is Glass' perceived potential as a tool to stealthily snap pictures and videos of people walking down the street, attending company meetings, hanging out in a bar, or simply going to the bathroom. Facial recognition is also a big fear with Glass; however, Google says it won't allow facial recognition on Glass until strong privacy protections are in place.

One of the ways Google could address privacy concerns is by adapting its unified privacy policy for Glass or creating a separate policy for the computerized headgear. In early 2012, Google unified its privacy policies into one generalized mega-policy that covers the majority of Google's products including Calendar, Docs, Gmail, and Google+.

Google said at the time this would make its privacy protections clearer to users and allow the company to combine your data across products to create new features, such as Gmail results in search and pretty much everything involved with Google Now. With the final version of Glass not yet released, it's hard to say for sure if Google needs to adapt its unified privacy policy to accommodate Glass.

Not enough

While Google's letter to Congress contains some lengthy responses to the privacy group's questions about Glass, Congressman Joe Barton, who co-founded the privacy caucus, says they won't suffice.

"I am disappointed in the responses we received from Google," Barton said in a statement. "There were questions that were not adequately answered and some not answered at all...Google Glass has the potential to change the way people communicate and interact...it is important that people's rights be protected and vital that privacy is built into the device."

Google's responses do come up short in a few areas. Barton and members of the Congressional privacy caucus asked, for example, what kind of device-specific information Google planned to collect from Glass. This could include hardware identification numbers, hardware model, operating system versions and so on--but Google's response to this relatively innocuous question was cagey at best.

"Google's Privacy Policy and pertinent disclosures during Glass setup provide users with information about what data will be collected from Glass," the company said.

Google's reticence to answer some of Congress' questions about Glass is understandable to a certain degree since Glass is still in development and could change before release. The company may also want to hold back information for fear that it could unwittingly divulge plans for Glass to a competitor. Nevertheless, Google's response to Congress did answer a few nagging questions about Glass that were of particular interest to anyone thinking of buying Glass.

Transfer away

There was some consternation among early adopters that Google wasn't allowing them to sell or transfer their Glass devices to third-parties. Google confirmed this measure is only temporary and that Google won't try to prohibit second-hand sales and transfers of the device.

"While we ask participants in our Explorer program not to sell or transfer their Glass, users who someday transfer Glass to others will have options for removing their content from the device," Google said.

Google is also working on a lock option for Glass similar to the security options for smartphones that protect the content on your device if your handset is lost or stolen. The company says it is still trying to figure out how a lock would work best on Glass, since finger-swipe patterns or selecting numbers from a virtual keypad could be a pain. For now, Glass users in the Explorer program have to suffice with a remote wipe option to keep any data on the device safe from prying eyes.

The company's latest response to Congress is just the first of what will likely be many letters Google will have to send out dealing with Glass and privacy. In mid-June, data protection authorities from countries such as Australia, Canada, Israel, and Mexico sent a letter to Google asking for more clarification about Glass and privacy.


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