Earlier this week, I wrote about the benefits of Google Glass and promised I would write about the dangers. There are enough of them that, even with the benefits in mind, it may be advisable to ban all products in this class from your work site and home except where expressly approved and supervised.
Currently, the Android platform is the least secure of the phone platforms, and recent evidence has been mounting that China is actively spreading related malware. Android is also the only one that McAfee has not only demonstrated can be taken over and run remotely by a hostile force, but actually where the phone can be overheated by an attacker until it fails.
We’ve been worried for some time that the microphone could be remotely activated, but as long as the phone remains in a pocket, purse, pouch or flat on a table, the remote activation of the camera was less of an issue. But if you place that camera on an employee’s head, the result could be catastrophic for intellectual property security; the result could be used to capture videos from bathrooms, meetings or unauthorized encounters that could embarrass executives or customers, and be used in legal actions ranging from sexual harassment to discrimination. Recall what the result of the surprise video from that Mitt Romney rally did to his campaign and the potential for damage goes well beyond the private sector.
Even if the phone isn’t hacked, an employee or visitor with hostile intent could entrap an unthinking employee or executive into saying something inappropriate, particularly at an event where alcohol is served (suggesting we may want to rethink those events) and then use it to blackmail or embarrass the executive or company. A head-mounted camera even used as a joke with the massive coverage that social media gets could have unintended, disastrous consequences.
There are a lot of jobs that require a great deal of focus and the glasses could cause a distraction at a critical juncture. A crane operator or an employee using hazardous machinery or simply walking around dangerous equipment, if distracted by the glasses at the wrong time, could injure himself or someone else. A glance up at the wrong time while an employee is using a saw could cost the employee his or her fingers or put someone coupling a train in the wrong place at the right time with deadly consequences. At some future point, these glasses may become more location-aware and might actually prevent an accident by providing a proximity warning or other danger alert, but initially they won’t have this capability and are more likely to distract than help.
Even when driving this could initially be problem: A prompt while traffic is stopping in front of the car to look to the side and see something of interest could easily result in an accident. Eventually, I expect the technology will become more situation-aware and better integrated with car accident avoidance systems so they will become part of the safety solution and less of a problem, but initially they likely should not be worn while driving and could initially be even more distracting than cell phones currently are because they will literally be in your face.
Google has a horrid record when it comes to privacy (currently it is under investigation by six European countries) and its need to capture and report what its users are doing is economically driven by its ad-based revenue model. (As I was finishing this post, Google’s privacy director stepped down). This means the risk, even if the connected phone isn’t hacked, of them accidentally capturing and sharing a picture you wouldn’t want shared of an adult or child is exceptionally high. While laws are being written that likely punish Google, that will provide little comfort if an inappropriate picture makes it onto Facebook or a video onto YouTube. Eventually, parents may be able to use this technology to check up on their kids, but initially this technology is more likely to find uses that put these same children at risk and they could make sexting with smartphones appear relatively benign by comparison.
Putting a camera on large numbers of adults and children with a technology controlled by a company with a horrid record on privacy will likely result in some rather painful unintended consequences until laws and controls are put into place to contain the risk. Until then, even though the technology also has great promise, you may want to block it on your corporate premises and keep it from loved ones under your guidance until the rewards clearly overcome the risks.