A Headache for More than Just “Glassholes?” The Potential Legal Hurdles for Google Glass

At least one Seattle restaurant has already forbidden diners to use Google Glass, citing privacy concerns.  A technology blogger in San Francisco was recently assaulted when she refused to remove her Google Glass, which was making bar patrons uncomfortable.  And a Californian recently became the first person ticketed for driving while wearing the device.

Google Glass, a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display, is expected to launch commercially by the end of this year.  Google has already released a list of etiquette tips to help prevent consumers from becoming “Glassholes”—and to avoid the type of bad press that could dampen sales.  Google’s biggest challenge, however, may be moves by state legislatures and police to limit use of the device.  Concerns about privacy (Google Glass can discreetly record video and snap photos), security (an app in development would allow a wearer to learn a person’s name and any information posted online about that person just by looking at him), intellectual property theft (at least one theatergoer was questioned by Homeland Security for four hours after wearing the device during a movie) may ultimately be addressed using existing laws.  But current “distracted driving” laws designed to prevent texting and phone calls may be an inadequate framework to address a device that is technically hands-free, yet potentially hugely distracting if used improperly.  States including West Virginia, Illinois, New Jersey and New York are considering including Google Glass among the lists of gadgets they prohibit to drivers.

Washington has not yet addressed Google Glass in its “distracted driving” laws, and so far, no driver seems to have been ticketed for using the device.  That may not last.  A bill currently being considered by the Washington Senate would specify that drivers may not “hold” wireless communications devices while operating a vehicle, even at temporary stops while at red lights or stop signs.  (Washington law already prevents drivers from holding cell phones and other wireless communications devices to their ears and text messaging while moving.)  It would be easy to redefine “holding” to include “wearing” a wireless device.  A recent study by the University of Washington found that one out of every 12 drivers in six major counties in Washington State are still using cell phones or other electronic devices while driving, bringing added publicity to the issue.

This number may increase in tech-savvy King County when early adopters begin to test the legal limits of Google Glass.  The Washington State Patrol is already attuned to the dangers of distracted driving.  When the distraction is not as obvious as a mobile phone—Google Glass has no obvious “on” light, and includes some features that Google contends may help drivers—the law may need to catch up to technology.

–Daniel Chertudi

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