Google Won’t Approve Glass Apps That Recognize People’s Faces… For Now

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The potential creep factor of Google Glass is something that the search giant has to mitigate as best it can if it wants that kooky head-worn display to become a mass-market sensation (and even that may not be enough), but a recent announcement highlights the search giant’s commitment to, well, do no evil.

Google confirmed on its official Glass G+ page earlier this evening that it won’t allow developers to create applications for the head-worn display that are capable of recognizing the faces of people the wearer encounters.

It’s no surprise that Google has been keen to downplay the idea of first-party face recognition features — Google Glass director Steve Lee gave the New York Times a near identical statement earlier this month — but now the company has made it clear that developers are subject to that same code of conduct.

That’s not to say that Google is throwing out the possibility of face-recognizing Glass apps in the future — the company just has to lock down a firm set of privacy protocols before letting developers run wild. As you’d expect, there’s no timetable in place yet so it’s still unclear when Glass will be able to chime in our ears with a long-forgotten acquaintance’s name. It may be a big win for privacy advocates, but the news doesn’t bode all that well for some of the early-stage startups that are angling to turn Glass into an ever-present recognition device. Consider the case of Lambda Labs — earlier this week the San Francisco team talked up its forthcoming facial and object recognition API that would allow developers to create applications with commands like “remember that face.” At the time, Lambda co-founder Stephen Balaban sought refuge in the fact that the Glass API didn’t explicitly bar the creation of face-recognition apps, a shelter that no longer exists. To quote the updated Glass developer policies:

Don’t use the camera or microphone to cross-reference and immediately present personal information identifying anyone other than the user, including use cases such as facial recognition and voice print. Applications that do this will not be approved at this time.

For now, though, Google seems all right with the prospect of using Glass to recognize individual, people so long as their faces aren’t the things being kept track of. Back in March, news broke of a partially Google-funded project from Duke University that saw researchers create a Glass app that let users identify people not by their faces but by a so-called “fashion fingerprint” that accounts for clothing and accessories. All things considered, it’s a neat way to keep tabs on individual people with a privacy mechanism baked into our behavior — all you need to do to be forgotten is change your clothes.