Google Glass in theater

Google Glass a Legal Grey Zone

By Andrew Hendricks

As Google Glass has moved at a snail's pace from a trade show novelty to a real-world gadget, the friction between old and new has already resulted in some iffy legal questions.

Last year, we discussed some of the questions raised by a patent filed by Google, a dreaded "pay-per-glaze" model of verifying ad-views in a theoretical future, though at the time they had given no hint they intended to do so. Yet with the New York Times now releasing their headline reader app, the first official third-party, Glass-friendly app, Google Glass consumers have already had a few very public run-ins with the law, making what were theoretical questions something a curious public needs answers to now.

For those who wear Glass and drive, there has been at least one ruling that is somewhat clarifying. Cecelia Abadie, a California woman, was pulled over and charged with a traffic violation for wearing Google Glass. Abadie challenged the ticket in court.

"I was wearing it because I do wear it all day, but I was not using it," Abadie said in an interview for a local San Diego TV station.

Some states, West Virginia being the first, are drafting legislation to explicitly prohibit driving with Google Glass and similar products.

Abadie went on to complain that, "a lot of people don't understand how the device works... and the fact that you're wearing it even if the device is turned on doesn't mean that you're watching it or using it actively."

Cecelia Abadie was found not guilty in the traffic violation, essentially because even though a California statute forbids motorists from using recording devices not mounted (such as a dashboard cam) while driving, it's possible to have the device on and not record. As Google is already looking into prescription Glass, the ruling should give the company a sigh of relief, however app developers are undoubtedly frustrated at the implications of the app.

One of the original touted benefits of Google Glass was that it was not just a phone or TV screen that rested directly in front of your eyeballs, but rather a piece of sophisticated technology that augments your reality in a useful way never before seen outside of science fiction. For example, Glass offers warning and situational awareness augmentations to your daily life, say warning a jogger of a pothole or a driver of dead-stop traffic approaching. Wired magazine is already reporting on a Google Glass-type computer in development for military soldiers.

Thus a question is raised that the courts may have to address in the future. If there is scientific evidence to prove that an app made for drivers on a Google Glass (or similar type) device dramatically increases their performance, wouldn't you want all commercial drivers to use such a device?

It would be a difficult issue to untangle, particularly because of the ability to root devices such as this (similar to jailbreaking an iPhone and installing your own software). Even if there were some way to shut-off all non-GPS or vehicle-app functionality, it would be impossible for an officer to know at a glance if a driver was actually using glass. One could see how dangerous a driver using an unfamiliar third-party app while driving could be. Pop-ads are difficult enough to deal with on a smartphone screen without having to worry about a similar interruption while merging at 75 miles an hour.

Legal authorities are suspicious of increasing use of Google Glass, and not just for safety reasons. One AMC movie-goer found himself on the wrong-side of the law for wearing his device during a movie.

In this instance, management assumed a man with Google Glass was recording the movie he was watching. The man claims his device was in the off position, yet somehow, in a very quick turn of events, Homeland Security and FBI agents were called to the theater and hooked the man's device up to a computer, assuring the movie-goer that they knew he was a movie pirate.

In the end, AMC issued a lukewarm Mea Culpa explaining that while they are "huge fans of technology and innovation" (as they put it), wearing a device capable of recording to a movie is not appropriate. The MPAA was on-site at the time and, possibly despite the better judgment of a service-side industry, Homeland Security was called, as they now oversee movie theft.

One thing is certain, and that is that if you are a Google Glass user, it is best to be cautious. As new and improved models are developed for different purposes and different brands, we will see what different state laws say about specific use of the device. Only time will tell if eyewear computers will ever be accepted as an "everywhere" item no different than a cellphone, or if social pressure and legal restrictions will prevent these devices from reaching full cultural penetration.