Google Glass Resurfaces as a Workplace Tool, but Privacy Complications May Remain


Alphabet Inc.’s Google Glass wearable internet interface and data collection tool debuted in 2013 to much fanfare. Early adopters donned the hands-free eyewear to get directions, take pictures and video, place phone calls, and browse the web.  Google Glass quickly drew the ire of legislatures, advocates, and the public due to privacy and safety issues. Google stopped selling the Google Glass Explorer Edition in early 2015.

But a new version of the interactive wearable is now being marketed to businesses and manufactures to help aid workers. Google Glass Enterprise Edition will provide workers with hands-free access to training videos and quality assurance checklists, according to Google. The device will also help employees connect with coworkers and gain valuable assistance without leaving their work-stations, Google said. 

The new version of the Google Glass, however, may still raise privacy issues that crippled earlier editions of the hands-free wearables. The product’s camera functionality still provides for the ability “to record individuals surreptitiously,” although a green LED light indicates when the device is recording, Timothy J. Toohey, partner at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP in Los Angeles and head of the firm’s cybersecurity practice, told Bloomberg BNA. 

The camera function is of concern because “several states in the U.S.” require consent from both the user of the recording device and the subject being recorded, Toohey said. If the company or the party records video or takes a photo without consent it might lead to invasion of privacy liability or criminal prosecution, he said. If companies use facial recognition technology through Google Glass, it may violate their privacy policies and catch the eye of the Federal Trade Commission, Toohey said. 

Companies considering adopting Google Glass Enterprise should set clear employee rules to avoid possible costly class action claims and federal enforcement action, Toohey said. Businesses may also be better off by disabling the camera feature where recording isn’t needed for the job at hand, he said. 

A Google Glass spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA that companies that employ the enterprise product "create and manage their own policies about when, where and how people use Glass in their workplaces." A "network of trusted partners create custom software and solutions" and "there are strict guidelines around what kinds of applications they can develop," the spokesperson said. Much like a work-provided mobile device, users "can select if Glass is turned on or off depending on what activity" is being performed "and the light signals" when the camera is on, the spokesperson said.

Google Glass Enterprise isn’t without its benefits though, Toohey said. The new Google Glass “has clear productivity uses in conjunction with complicated repairs or assembly (aircraft, automobiles) and for supply-line management,” he said. It can also be used by the health-care industry and medical professionals for “easier note taking” and better collaboration, he said. 

But, companies should “be cautioned on both the definite upsides and theoretical downsides of the using the product,” Toohey said.

To keep up with the constantly evolving world of privacy and security sign up for the Bloomberg BNA Privacy and Security Update.