Google Glass Update: Helpful or Privacy Issue?

Now your boss really can see through your eyes

Key Takeaways

  • An update to Google Glass will let bosses peer through the augmented reality headsets of their workers. 
  • The new feature will allow supervisors and experts to offer advice and commentary from a remote location. 
  • The ability to surveil workers through Glass raises privacy issues, observers say. 
A person using Google Glass.
Brooks Kraft / Corbis News / Getty Images 

Google Glass is getting the ability to let supervisors see through the eyes of their remote workers using the business edition of the augmented reality headset. 

The new feature aims to help employees complete tasks away from the office more efficiently at a time when remote work is on the increase due to the coronavirus crisis. An update to Glass will allow Google Meet to run on the Glass and enable live chat. But the ability to surveil workers through Glass raises privacy issues, observers say. 

"One concern is overzealous managers using this technology to over-monitor their employees, which could lead to additional stress in the workplace," Ottomatias Peura, chief marketing officer of Speechly, a speech recognition software company, said in an email interview. "Another is inherent in the device itself, Google having access to a treasure of data on employees, work environments, and internal corporate information."

Remote Work Gets a Boost

Using Meet on Google Glass could be a game-changer, experts say. For example, Google points out, field service technicians could connect with experts in another location to repair devices that provide medical care to patients. "Both employees and employers will gain as they no longer will need to physically be together to work," Robb Hecht, a professor of Marketing at Baruch College in New York, said in an email interview.

"Work can become very abstract, and problem-solving can be conducted anywhere through AR and VR." The Meet feature for Glass could mean "faster onboarding, better instruction, and knowledge sharing could result in employees that are more proficient and better prepared to do their jobs," Peura said. 

When Glass, an optical head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses, was first rolled out for consumers, it was widely panned for its potential for privacy violations. But the new Google Glass feature that’s aimed at businesses could raise workplace privacy issues that didn’t exist before, Peura added. "Imagine a scenario where an employee forgets to shut off their device when on break or even at home, giving the manager the ability to listen in to private and even intimate conversations," he added. 

The Google Glass Wearables displayed on a table.
Brook Kraft / Corbis News / Getty Images 

What Workplace Boundaries?

And don’t forget to leave your Google Glasses at home when you’re off work, experts say. One solution would be to add a 'geofence' so that the glasses don’t function in places where they aren’t supposed to, Mark McCreary, Partner, and Chair of Fox Rothschild's Privacy & Data Security Practice, said in an email interview. "We also have to trust the employee will always have the presence of mind to leave the device behind when using the restroom or on personal time while at work."

As Glass gathers more data through the update, the risk of hacks remain. "Past breaches suggest it will be a case of when, and not if, there are hacks and leaks of sensitive information due to the frequent failures on centralized servers to keep the data safe,"  Raullen Chai, CEO of IoTeX, an internet security company, said in an email interview. 

Having another person watch you work through Glass could be distracting. "For the user, the computer glasses are a radical method to diffuse attention and consciousness," David Balaban, a computer security researcher, said in an email interview. "Receiving instructions is good, but accidents happen even with headphones, while a person gets 80% of information about the world around him from sight and only 18% from hearing." 

Health Effects Are Unknown

Privacy might not be the only consideration. The long-term effects health effects of using augmented reality devices like Google Glass is unknown, Balaban pointed out. "For millions of years, our brain has evolved in a different pattern," he said. "Will our brain be able to adapt to work on two fronts? Can new diseases or disorders appear from this?"

Whether or not workers are ready for this new chapter of remote work, the technology is getting closer to a job site near you. Just make sure your living room is clean the next time your boss wants to check in on what you are doing via Google Glass.