Glass is a rare window into Google’s soul.
Seldom does a new product come along that exposes a company like Google Glass does.
For the few that have not heard of Google Glass yet, it is a hands-free, wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display above one’s eye to provide information to the user and enable video recording of whatever a user sees. What’s recorded is stored in Google’s data centers and that data will be integrated with most Google products and services.
For one day, April 15, Google is offering any American the opportunity to buy Glass for $1,500.
Why such animosity? A recent poll by Toluna of 1,000 Americans found 72% had privacy concerns about Glass. Their second biggest fear was safety and distractibility. And a third of those polled feared being mugged while wearing Glass.
Another reason is visceral. Glass is an in-your-face device that people know can spy and eavesdrop on their private activities and conversations without their knowledge or consent.
So how does Google Glass expose Google?
Glass brings attention to problems Google would rather conceal.
First, as the Toluna poll exposed, Americans understand Google Glass inherently creates privacy concerns.
Already over a dozen bars and restaurants in San Francisco have banned Google Glass as an unwanted invasion of their customers’ privacy. In at least two instances, people were upset enough to physically attack Glass wearers in public. With more Glass “Explorers” outside of the Silicon Valley area, expect more Glass privacy-related incidents in more places.
Google has settled with 38 states for violating tens of millions of Americans privacy. Google also received a record privacy fine from the FTC for breaking a previous FTC-Google privacy settlement by hacking into Safari’s browser to bypass iPhone users’ privacy settings.
Second, the more Glass users attempt to secretly record more private conversations without meaningful notice or consent, the more people will eventually learn of Google’s widespread wiretapping.
Google recently appealed to the Supreme Court a decision that ruled Google Street View’s secret interception of tens of millions of American homeowners’ unencrypted WiFi signals was illegal wiretapping.
And a different Federal Court ruled that Google’s routine interception of more than 100 million American Gmail users’ emails for the purposes of creating advertising profiles also constitutes illegal wiretapping.
Third, more Glass users will mean an increased chance of a Glass distracted driver being involved in an accident that causes harm or death.
In stark contrast to wireless companies proactively running an “it can wait” national advertising against the dangers of using phones while driving, Google is proactively lobbying multiple states to not ban driving with Google Glass when it knows full well Glass is obviously distracting for drivers.
Sadly, the first Glass distracted-driver accident will bring more attention to Google’s history of reckless disregard for the safety of others.
In Google’s initial Glass dos and don’ts for “Explorers,” Google does not appear to be taking reasonable care in preventing foreseeable potential harm to others. There is no admonition about the obviously distracting nature of using Google Glass when driving and the potential risk of harm to the user or others.
Finally, Glass reminds people that Google has become the spy tool of choice, the one-stop-shop for spying and the spymasters dream.
There is good reason that Glass is only being offered to Americans and not foreigners despite more than half of Google’s business coming from the rest of the world.
Given Snowden’s NSA revelations and Google’s strong legal and operational alignment with the NSA and Google’s recent Glass work for the U.S. military, many foreigners and other governments naturally can perceive Glass as SpyGlass or NSA headgear.
In sum, Glass has already proven to be a highly-controversial, in-your-face product that many people not only dislike, but also fear.
On April 15 Google will throw Google Glass at America by selling it to any American who wants to buy it that day.
Time will tell if Glass proves the old adage that those who live in glass houses should not throw stuff at others.
Scott Cleland is President of Precursor LLC, a consultancy serving Fortune 500 clients, some of which are Google competitors. He is also author of “Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.” Cleland has testified before both the Senate and House antitrust subcommittees on Google and also before the relevant House oversight subcommittee on Google’s privacy problems.