Google ‘bans’ facial recognition on Google Glass

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Following privacy concerns, Google says that “at this time” it won’t allow any apps for Google Glass that incorporate facial recognition. The announcement was made shortly after an American company said it would offer a commercial service to recognise celebrities and others.

Glass is a wearable system that can take still and video pictures and upload them to the internet in real time using a Bluetooth-connected smartphone, as well as using voice recognition and location data to provide information about the surroundings.

“We’ve been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass,” the company said in a statement. “As Google has said for several years, we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time.”

Even though developers have pointed out though that it is possible to load apps – which Google calls “Glassware” – onto the wearable system without needing Google’s permission, Google suggests that it stands as an intermediary between any online services and the display output on Glass, according to its developer overview, which says in part: “Google handles all of the necessary details of syncing between your Glassware and your users’ Glass.”

The result could be a cat-and-mouse game between Google and facial recognition providers. The search giant is able to kill apps remotely which it decides are “undesirable”, and it can force software updates on the devices which could block access to certain services. But companies could change the sites or destinations that services connect to in order to recognise faces – which would then require another blocking update.

Google has already come under pressure from US Congressional members, who wrote on 17 May to chief executive Larry Page demanding to know how it would prevent “unintentional” collection of data, protect the privacy of non-users, and whether it would implement facial recognition. They demanded responses by 14 June.

Apparently in response to the last of those concerns, the Google Glass project team says on its Google+ page that it won’t add facial recognition features to their products without having strong privacy protections in place.

Google has previously backed off introducing facial recognition systems in smartphones in Europe, which would have let people identify someone from a camera picture.

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