Google Glass Patent Attempts to Curb ‘Creepy’ Privacy Issue

Ric Richardson, a resourceful Australian inventor has come up with a cover for the Google Glass camera that can address privacy issues being raised over concealed surveillance.

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Photo: Antonio Zugaldia / Flickr

The Australian has patented a shutter for Google Glass that tells the onlookers whether the camera is active or not. Richardson gained popularity in May 2012 when he won a legal battle against Microsoft for using his anti-piracy technology.

There was a growing concern over the security issues related to Google Glass as the camera of the device does not flash during recording, which means that the onlookers can’t quite tell for sure if they’re being recorded.

The new modification adds a shutter to the lens of the camera, so the bystanders are well-aware when they are being photographed.

Richardson revealed this camera adaptation in his hometown of Byron Bay at the Innovation Pipeline event held last week, as well as exhibit the invention for Google executives in Sydney and showcase the shutter at SydStart this Tuesday. The working prototype of the shutter modification was developed with the help of Cocreators, a Sydney-based firm.

Richardson is an advocate for transparency in the civilian use of HUDs (Head Up Displays), and said that the invention was not for money, but rather for saving millions of dollars that went into creating Google Glass.

Google has actively addressed criticism related to the looks of Google Glass but hasn’t paid much attention to the privacy concerns. He said that the picture and video taking ability of the camera is just a small percentage of the total value of the device, and this minor issue of privacy was bringing down the entire device.

“It’s such an easy fix, I assumed Google would have solved it on the spot, but weeks went by and I decided to fix the problem myself.”

In June 2013, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart issued a joint letter to Google, raising questions about the privacy issues of Google Glass. The questions related to data protection laws, privacy safeguards, usage of information, and privacy risk assessment,

“We understand that other companies are developing similar products, but you are a leader in this area, the first to test your product ‘in the wild’ so to speak, and the first to confront the ethical issues that such a product entails.”

Google Australia said that they would welcome any ideas from users.

A Google spokesperson commented, “It’s early days and we are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues. Our Glass Explorer program in the US and UK, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology.”

Google has faced a lot of criticism over the privacy concerns over Google Glass and the critics have said that this device would turn people into surveillance drones. This even led to the coining of a new term, “Glasshole”, which is used for people who talk to their Google Glass, ignoring the rest of the world. The device hasn’t been made widely available for sale.

According to Richardson, he got the idea for his invention when he saw the commotion that erupted when Robert Scoble, a Google Glass advocate, said that he wears Google Glass in public restrooms. This sparked up debates as he could record videos without being noticed by anyone, and would thus defy decency standards.

scoble

Richardson said, “You don’t know the motives of people who are videoing you in public in a cafe or whatever. You need to at least have the dignity of being informed it’s going on.”

His patent also addresses the privacy issues over audio used in Google Glass.

Richardson feels that the Glass is an excellent and innovative device, and it would just be wrong to see it crippled by social problems that can be fixed with technology. He said he wants to wear the Glass in a theater to get quick information while he watched the movie, without raising a concern about him secretly pirating it.

He plans to hand over his work to companies as soon as his technology is ready to be presented.

Update:

After giving a demo of Google Glass privacy shutter at Sydstart, Richardson went to Google Australia to show his invention and met Sally-Ann Williams, the Outreach Program Manager of Google Sydney. He hasn’t given the complete details of the meeting, but he said that everything was positive, and he was very happy to visit Google for his invention.

“I hate the idea of ever working for someone but if I had to my first choice would be Google.”