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Google Glass worries lawmakers, casino operators

New wearable computers are drawing concerns from some about policy and privacy issues. Others say such worries stem primarily from a fear of change. Discussions continue about the appropriate place for such technology in varied social situations.

By Alexei OreskovicReuters / May 18, 2013

Google Glass team member Salil Pandit wears Google Glasses at a booth at Google I/O 2013 in San Francisco, Wednesday.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

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SAN FRANCISCO

Google staged four discussions expounding on the finer points of its "Glass" wearable computer during this week's developer conference. Missing from the agenda, however, was a session on etiquette when using the recording-capable gadget, which some attendees faithfully wore everywhere - including to the crowded bathrooms.

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Google Glass, a cross between a mobile computer and eyeglasses that can both record video and surf the Internet, is now available to a select few but is already among the year's most buzz-worthy new gadgets. The device has geeks all aflutter but is unnerving everyone from lawmakers to casino operators worried about the potential for hitherto unimagined privacy and policy violations.

"I had a friend and we're sitting at dinner and about 30 minutes into it she said, 'You know those things freak me out,'" said Allen Firstenberg, a technology consultant at the Google developers conference. He has been wearing Glass for about a week but offered to take them off for the comfort of his dinner companion.

On another occasion, Firstenberg admitted to walking into a bathroom wearing his Glass without realizing it.

"Most of the day I totally forget it's there," he said.

Many believe wearable computers represent the next big shift in technology, just as smartphones evolved from personal computers. Apple and Samsung are said to be working on other forms of wearable technology.

The test version of Glass looks like a clear pair of eyeglasses with a hefty slab along the right side. Since it began shipping to a couple thousand carefully selected early adopters who paid about $1,500 for the device, it has inspired a bit of ridicule - from a parody on "Saturday Night Live" to a popular blog poking fun at its users.

Other industry experts take a more serious tack, pointing out the potential for misuse because Glass can record video far less conspicuously than a handheld device.

Glass also has won many fans. Google and some early users maintain that privacy fears are overblown. As with traditional video cameras, a tiny light blinks on to let people know when it is recording.

Several Glass wearers at the developers conference said they whip the device off in inappropriate situations, such as in gym locker rooms or work meetings. Michael Evans, a Web developer from Washington, D.C., attending the Google conference, said he removed his Glass when he went to the movies, even though the device would be ill-suited for recording a feature-length film.

"I just figured I don't want to be the first guy kicked out of the movies," he said. 

No glass allowed 

A stamp-sized electronic screen mounted on the left side of a pair of eyeglass frames, Glass can record video, access email, provide turn-by-turn driving directions and retrieve info from the Web by connecting wirelessly to a user's cell phone.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt dismissed concerns about the brave new world of wearable computers during a talk at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in April.

"Criticisms are inevitably from people who are afraid of change or who have not figured out that there will be an adaptation of society to it," he said.

Schmidt acknowledged that there are certain places where Glass will not be appropriate but that he believed new rules of social etiquette will coalesce over time. Firstenberg said it will take time for all sides to get comfortable with the new technology.

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