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Lawmakers ask Google's Larry Page to address Glass privacy issues

May 16, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) tries Google Glass after a meeting of the Republican Party caucus.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) tries Google Glass after a meeting of the… (Michael Mathes / AFP/Getty…)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Months before the futuristic glasses become publicly available, Google Glass is already getting scrutiny from Capitol Hill.

Eight members of Congress on Thursday sent a letter to Google Chief Executive Larry Page to ask what his company will do to protect people's privacy.

The letter landed on the second day of Google's annual conference for software developers, many of whom are already wearing an early version of Google Glass. Developers paid $1,500 a pair for the Explorer prototype and are learning how to write software for the wearable computing device. During the conference Google announced new apps for Glass from Facebook and Twitter, among others.

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The letter from Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, and seven other lawmakers raised privacy issues and asked what Google would to prevent Google Glass from "unintentionally collecting data about the user/non-user without consent."

"Is it true that this product would be able to use facial recognition technology to unveil personal information about whomever?" the letter asked.

In an emailed statement, Google said: "We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues. Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology."

The technology giant has wrestled with scrutiny from privacy authorities around the world over how it handles personal information.

Curiosity about the new form of wearable computing has triggered great interest and some uneasiness. Even some Google employees treat the technology as a novelty and don't wear it in public.

A survey from BiTE Interactive found that 38% of people who own a smartphone would not buy or wear Glass even if they could afford to buy a pair. One out of 10 people would buy and regularly use Google Glass if they could afford it, the survey found. Nearly half of people thought Glass would be too "socially awkward" and "irritating."

That was not the case Wednesday when Republican lawmakers tried on Google Glass.

At the request of the GOP, Google representatives conducted demonstrations of Google Glass.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) tried on a pair. In an email, a representative for Bachmann told ABC News that the congresswoman enjoys "being ahead of the curve when it comes to innovative technology."

"The lawmakers were very enthusiastic about Glass when they got their hands on it," said a person who attended the meeting.

Earlier this year, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won a Twitter contest #ifihadglass to be among the first to try out the prototype, Google Glass Explorer.

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