The CEO was speaking with the press during a visit to London.
The first question on his mind while speaking to me was why isn’t Google selling facial recognition as well the many other biometrics the company is selling. He then brought up the recently proposed law in the US of what’s considered a criminal act totake a picture of someone of a certain age. When I read this I realized that this law may be illegal as it may violate citizens constitutional rights. In the US, you are limited to taking a picture in a public place without a search warrant unless you’re being stalked or a police officer tells you to do so. But it is also an interesting legal argument that the law may not be constitutional as the police will have the right to take the picture in private , but the law doesn’t give them the right to keep or take that picture in private. I asked about this law and his response was that Google believes this law will be challenged again, probably with the same arguments that brought this “bad bill” down in the US back in 2012. In another example he brought up a law in Brazil, that requires a person to capture or write down a picture for ID then must photograph it in addition to using their facial recognition technology. This law is already on trial and the judge’s decision to put it on the trial table is up in the air. In this interview with a Brazilian newspaper he said that while he doesn’t agree with their system, he believes in the principle of the law . [ The first sentence in the Brazilian case speaks the important lines on the matter of whether the state can prevent a person from using a tool to help them protect themselves from potential abuse: if the state chooses to limit a person’s freedom, to the extent necessary to protect and further, the interests of the state as a whole, the state may use a more extensive set of measures than can be used to prohibit its citizens from a specific behavior.] As I explained in this article , in 2013 Google bought Eyesfree, a startup founded by two University of Nebraska alums who were pioneers in facial recognition. When I asked him how he felt about this latest move in security, he said only that the company believes, as well as many others, that the security of our data–not the data about a person’s face–should be more valuable. If companies that sell biometric privacy tools do make it easier to capture photos of faces and the data comes off your phone, the companies selling the tool will be selling something far more valuable than face recognition for the purpose of data analysis. Google, Apple, Facebook, etc., are making a statement by focusing on using this technology for purposes beyond the purpose of biometrics, for surveillance, and using it to make people feel safer. This interview was a bit surreal, given all the bizarre news stories that had come out since 2012 about Google and its dealings with the Department of Homeland Security. By the end, when I asked him about this, he said sheesh, we are in the early days… Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., are selling biometric privacy tools that are used by both the police and FBI. We now have to think about the implications of this as a society. If these things are being sold to the DHS at least as the DHS and FBI are using them, then the possibility is not totally far out of the question. There is nothing to have done or to look forward to to get the DHS to change the policy of its “crime fighting” functions regarding privacy of our data; that’s the end of that. All this means is that unless and until there is a big push to make the world safe for people even if their biometrics have been hijacked, then this is going to be the normal state of business today. What do you think Google is doing with your biometrics? (this will be posted when I get back to the US.)
A new book from Michael Wessel, The World Atlas Of Everyday Surveillance ( is almost done, a paperback out next month) is now available.
In the meantime: I got off a flight tonight and got to an Apple store around 4am, but they were not selling the book.