Google hopes to revolutionize the tech world with its new toy: Google Glass.
But Bill Gates thinks he can make plenty of profit off his rival’s baby — and make life more complicated for “Glassholes” in the process.
The Microsoft cofounder recently filed a patent on technology that would guard against nearby “intruding cameras” — such as those found on Google Glass — that one might be able to use to swipe personal data off a laptop monitor or ATM screen. The hypothetical technology would be able to scan the vicinity for “intruders or safe viewers,” detect hard-to-see cameras, and protectively blur content while alerting users to potential snoops.
The filing, which lists Gates and former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold among a bevy of inventors, could allow its authors to cash in on privacy concerns that have long surrounded wearable technology like Google Glass. By helping to protect passwords, private photographs, and anything else on screen that isn’t for the eyes of others, Gates is aiming to tap into the growing and lucrative data-protection market. By filing the patent, Gates and company set themselves up to profit from products that could protect such data.
Nothing in the filing specifically names Google Glass — the computer-equipped eyeglasses that could soon enter mainstream commercial space. But its discussion of “collateral viewers” who can surreptitiously point a camera at a display screen echoes a common complaint heard from privacy groups concerned about the creepiness factor of Glass and similar technology.
Google, for its part, has warned early Glass testers to not be “creepy or rude (aka, a ‘Glasshole’)” because “breaking the rules or being rude will not get businesses excited about Glass.”
But despite concerns of coming off as creepy, Google has shown that Glass may just be the beginning of ocular-focused wearable tech. In 2012 the company applied for a patent that would place an entire camera on a contact lens without increasing lens thickness that could potentially serve the visually impaired — or, as some have noted, allow Terminator-vision in real life.
Some lawmakers from both parties have voiced concerns that Glass, which uses a voice interface to take photos, access the Internet, and display directions, could be abused to violate privacy and potentially steal sensitive data.
Google Glass is still in beta mode, meaning it isn’t currently available to the public and is still undergoing development tests. Just Tuesday, however, the search giant made one of its models publicly available for $1,500 a pop, though the company hasn’t announced any sales figures from the tax-day special.
Myhrvold, one of the inventors listed alongside Gates on the filing, is a cofounder of Intellectual Ventures, which is one of the biggest patent holders in the world and is also often accused of being a frequent patent troll — a company that buys cheap patents and profits from them by threatening infringement suits against others in hopes of settling. The patent filing lists Elwha LLC as the applicant company with a location of Bellevue, Wash., where Ventures is also headquartered.