Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Google Glass Privacy Concerns Lead Lawmakers to Investigate 1960s X-Ray Specs

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Eight members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus published an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page on Monday to address privacy concerns with the company's smartphone-like eyeglasses, Google Glass. Currently, a few thousand software developers, early adopters and hand-selected beta testers are putting the new technology through its paces. But the device's ability to record anything the user sees and hears, ostensibly without notice, leaves digital privacy and etiquette advocates apprehensive. Lawmakers are requesting Page to outline Google's plan for incorporating privacy protections into the device by mid-June. Google, however, is not being singled out, although its product has become the catalyst for these investigations, lawmakers admitted. They are also launching congressional probes into the manufacturers of older devices, the most controversial being the maker of X-Ray Specs, a popular American novelty item from the 1960s that allows wearers to see through structures, skin and women's clothing, according to ads.

The Privacy Caucus has expressed concerns that Google Glass could collect user data without the user's knowledge and consent.

"Can you imagine the unmitigated violations -- the utter victimization and mind-rape -- if something like that were to fall into the hands of Attorney General Holder?" frightened lawmakers asked Page.

At its essence, Google Glass is a wearable computer with a head-mounted display that resembles eyeglass frames. A small translucent lens over the right eye serves as the screen on which images are projected to the user.

"A Glass user can be recording any person, any situation, without betraying the normal cues associated with cameras, phones or video recorders. It's easy to mistake Google Glass for eyewear, and its hands-free operation provides no signal to others that they're being photographed," said Janus Heuchler, head sociologist at San Narciso's Poeslaw Institute for Social Research and Development (PISRAD).

Glass can display the weather, Gmail messages, directions, news alerts, event reminders and most other information commonly associated with smart devices. Users can send emails and texts, perform Internet searches and take pictures and video through the hands-free system, which responds to voice commands, gesture and touch.

Because Glass records images and video without attracting much notice, venues such as Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., have preemptively banned the device from their facilities.

But Google executives chastised members of the Privacy Caucus for attacking Glass, which they called "the logical evolution of much older technologies." Page reminded Congress that similarly intrusive devices have been accessible to the public for years.

"I'm sure today's young people have no idea what X-Ray Specs or X-Ray Gogs are, but any child of the 60s and 70s who read an Archie comic or ate Bazooka gum may have owned a pair," Page said. "It's not fair to converge on Google, a company that does no evil, when worse devices have been allowed to exist on the open market for decades, without any scrutiny or oversight whatsoever. Congress should be embarrassed."

X-Ray Specs were long advertised with the slogan "See the bones in your hand, see through clothes!" Some versions of the advertisement featured an illustration of a young man using the device to examine the bones in his hand, while others focused on a man preparing to "x-ray" a voluptuous woman standing in the background.

"You could get your hands on these things for less than two dollars," Page explained. "But nobody said a word about it. Clearly, something powerful enough to penetrate solid objects poses a much greater invasion of privacy than a smartphone built into faux eyeglasses."

To save face, Congress has requested a thorough investigation of all manufacturers still developing and selling "novelty" products based on X-Ray Specs technology. Lawmakers have also moved to seize all records and patent data belonging to Harold von Braunhut, the American mail-order marketing genius and inventor who is credited with designing the most famous incarnation of the device.

Von Braunhut also created Amazing Sea Monkeys. Justice Department officials will be issuing subpoenas to the trustees of von Braunhut's estate and are expanding their probe to include Sea Monkeys.

"The fact that this man engineered a new breed of sea creature from water-soluble pellets means he was involved in illegal cloning operations back in 1957," Dr. Heuchler said. "He was playing a dangerous game of God, and we all missed it. Before we stop the Facebooks and Googles of the world, we need to better understand von Braunhut's experiments, his role in influencing today's intrusive social media, and, God forbid, what others monstrosities he may have unleashed on the world."

Heuchler believes Amazing Sea Monkeys could have been a first attempt to develop self-replicating nanobots.

"These things were left to reproduce without government regulators paying any mind to them," Heuchler cautioned. "But in reality, Sea Monkeys could be the first harbingers of ecophagy ("eating the environment"), as theorized in Great Goo end-of-the-world scenarios. And again, we did nothing. It may already be too late."

Great Goo is a hypothetical apocalypse involving molecular nanotechnology. According to the theory, out-of-control nanobots will consume all matter on Earth in the process of building more of themselves.

2013. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. See disclaimers.

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