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Google Glass must be built with privacy in mind, warns ICO

Data protection watchdog said it's Google's responsibility to ensure augmented reality glasses comply with privacy laws.

Google Sign

Google must ensure its augmented reality glasses are built with user privacy in mind to avoid incurring the wrath of the Information Commissioner's Office.

The search giant has been testing its Google Glass, which will allow users to take hands-free recordings and pictures, for some time now.

Pressure has been growing on Google in recent days to release details about how the wearable technology product's features will square with compliance and data protection laws.

Earlier this week, several members of the Article 29 Working Party wrote to Google CEO Larry Page seeking further clarification on this matter, citing fears that individuals could be subjected to "ubiquitous surveillance" by the technology's users.

As well as the Article 29 Working Party, which represents the interests of EU data protection authorities, the letter was also signed by the Canadian and Australian privacy commissioners.

"You may recall, data protection authorities have long emphasised the need for organisations to build privacy into the development of products and services before they are launched," the letter states.

"Many of us have also encouraged organisations to consult in a meaningful way with our respective offices."

During an event in central London today, to announce the launch of the ICO's Annual Report, the Commissioner Christopher Graham raised doubts about the feasibility of getting products like Google Glass vetted pre-launch.

"I don't think you should have to get sign off from the ICO's office as a data controller to introduce a new product," he said.

"I think you should simple have to take responsibility to abide by the law and it's at your own risk [if you get it wrong]."

Few data protection bodies will have the resources available to do this, he reasoned, and companies should be taking a privacy-first approach to new products.

"We do not want another Street View, we do not want another Google privacy policy [with Google Glass]," he said.

"Can we be assured that [they're working to the] principle...[of]privacy by design and that's the risk."

In a statement to IT Pro, a Google representative said user input will play an important role in the development of Google Glass. 

"We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues," the statement read.

"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."

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