by Rob Enderle

IT Should Ban Google Glass Before It’s Too Late

News Analysis
Dec 13, 20135 mins
IT GovernanceIT LeadershipLegal

Google's soon-to-be-publicly-available wearable technology exposes your company to problems ranging from illegal wiretapping and surveillance to a wild spectrum of inappropriate uses. Columnist Rob Enderle writes that you should do yourself a favor and ban Google Glass before it is even available to your employees.

I was reading a post by Scott Cleland on how Google Glass use might result in an illegal wiretapping charge and it brought back memories of when I almost got arrested for this myself years ago when I was running a small security unit. I basically got off with the young and stupid defense, but I realized that youth would eventually go away and the stupid defense alone doesn’t seem to carry as much weight.

If you aren’t familiar with Google Glass, it’s a head-mounted, always-on, sound- and video-capture device that uploads what it sees to the Web. I’ll touch on the wiretapping argument, but also talk about some of the other problems that are likely to result from this technology.

Wiretapping’s Not What It Used to Be

Wiretapping laws are somewhat inconsistent state to state and — based on the Eric Snowden disclosures — are pretty much ignored by the NSA. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t or can’t be enforced. Now an employee using Google Glass at work probably is at reasonably low risk unless he uses the technology to capture a manager or fellow employee behaving badly enough to get fired. Still the company may be able to use the material and whether the firm or individual is liable for damage will likely depend on the laws that are enforced in the state.

[Related: 5 Things Businesses Need to Know About Google Glass]

Before you use Google Glass in an action, you should at least have a discussion with your legal department on what might happen should an employee catch inappropriate language, inappropriate behavior, theft or some other serious violation of employment policy on one of these devices. It would be pretty embarrassing to fire someone for a legitimate cause and then make them rich because you did so illegally.

[Related: Busting the 7 Worst Myths About Google Glass]

Still this suggests there may be a beneficial use to these glasses. After all, you proably already use security cameras successfully, though you do have to be careful where you put them (generally bathrooms are bad locations, for instance, which is why drug trades are supposedly often done there).

More Google Glass Problems

Now you’d likely conclude that issues with Google Glass would include the taping of employees and managers behaving badly: i. e., racist and sexist comments, inappropriate language, even unacceptable behavior (drug or alcohol abuse). However, what about staged crimes to make the company look bad? With Google Glass — and we already have issues with cell phone cameras — the likelihood of an issue with a camera that is already on and where someone is tricked into believing he saw something that reflects on the company badly is even more likely to get social attention.

[Related: How Safe is Google Glass for Driving?]

Ironically, this came to light this week when an activist, pretending he was a Google employee, tried to insight a riot by badmouthing people demonstrating against tech companies here in California because of the resulting unaffordable living expense. He actually could have gotten someone killed if things had gotten out of hand. Social media picked him up and the hoax wasn’t discovered until much later, after the damage had been done to both Google and the tech industry.

Think how much more powerful this could be if someone pretending to be management at an organized strike was to push around pregnant protestors and call them inappropriate names or do other things to incite the crowd to violence?

[Related Slideshow: 6 Google Glass Alternatives]

I studied the Borax strikes where protestors actually shot down security helicopters, attempted to poison wells and buried managers up to their necks (not kidding) in ant hills. We haven’t seen a really nasty labor action in a while, but the combination of always-on cameras and a little ill-advised creativity could end really badly.

It’s a given that some young employees will post inappropriate pictures, but their defense — if you allow this product at your company — will be that you may have tacitly approved how it would be used, unless you are very specific in your policy. The headline “[Insert your company here] Is Accused of Promoting Sexual Deviant’s Practice” isn’t as far-flung as you might think.

[Related Slideshow: 6 Google Glass Alternatives]

And we haven’t even touched on the security concerns that would result when a remote viewer turned the glasses and microphone on without the user’s knowledge.

Attention Tech Executives: Ban Google Glass

The bottom line is that you should set a company policy that bans Google Glass — at least on campus and during business events — unless you have thought through the risks of employees using these and what might happen if they misused them or the use caused a firing or damage.

We used to ban phones that had cameras from most corporations, but we let them in once we realized it was pretty obvious when someone was using one improperly. With Google Glass, you may simply not know until the video is on the Web — or with a competitor — and that makes this technology too dangerous for most companies.

Rob is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance, and Security. Currently, Rob writes on emerging technology, security, and Linux for a wide variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.

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