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Congress asks Google to explain Glass privacy policies

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The pilot phase of Google Glass is barely off the ground, but the Chocolate Factory's high-tech specs have already drawn the scrutiny of the US Congress over concerns that they could infringe individual privacy.

In a letter addressed to Google CEO Larry Page, eight members of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus called upon the online giant to explain just how it plans to protect citizens' privacy when Glass goes mainstream.

"Because Google Glass has not yet been released and we are uncertain of Google's plans to incorporate privacy protection into the device, there are still a number of unanswered questions that we share," the letter states.

It goes on to note – rather incisively, we might add – that Google has a bit of a bad habit of collecting data without permission, as in the recent case where its Street View cars were found to have been snooping data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

Among the questions the representatives would like answered are what kinds of data Google Glass will collect, whether any privacy safeguards will be built into the devices, what privacy policies will be in place, and whether individuals will be able to opt out of data collection and features like face recognition.

"Please provide examples of when Google would reject requests on Google Glass that would risk the privacy of others," the letter requests. "Would Google place limits on the technology and what type of information it can reveal about another person?"

The letter further asks whether Google will require Glass developers to build privacy controls into their apps, and whether data stored on the devices will be protected by some sort of user authentication scheme.

Fair questions all, we think – and questions that Google is unlikely to have clear answers for at this early stage. The current Explorer Edition Glass headsets are intended for developers only, and a future, commercially available version could look very different.

Even at this year's Google I/O conference, currently underway in San Francisco, although buzz about Glass is high, most of the talk about it has had a decidedly forward-looking air. When asked during a keynote Q&A session what opportunities the devices offer developers, Page replied only, "Our main goal is to get happy users using Glass."

He'll have to do a little better than that, however, when he replies to the Privacy Caucus's letter. The eight signatories of the letter are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, suggesting that interest in the matter within Congress may be broad.

That's bound to be a bummer for Page, who lamented during his keynote that "old institutions, like the law" weren't keeping up with the pace of tech, and that he wished the world was more like the anarchic Burning Man festival.

The letter requests a formal reply from Page no later than June 14, 2013. Google has declined to comment. ®

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