A Google Glass app that claims it can scan strangers’ faces and pull up information about them online is drawing scrutiny from Capitol Hill.
Democratic Sen. Al Franken sent a letter Wednesday urging the maker of the NameTag app to delay its release. Franken demanded more information about how the app will work and urged the company to implement tougher privacy safeguards.
“Your company has a duty to act as a responsible corporate citizen in deploying this technology, which must be done in a manner that respects and protects individual privacy,” wrote Franken, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Privacy, Technology, and the Law Subcommittee.
The makers of NameTag say it can use the Google Glass camera to scan people’s faces and then look for matches online, including on dating sites like OkCupid and Match. Franken expressed alarm that the app could allow users to identify a stranger’s name, photos, relationship status, and other private information without their consent or knowledge.
Google, however, bans the use of facial-recognition technology on Glass — its computerized eyewear that is still in limited release.
“Our policy remains as it did when we publicly banned facial-recognition apps in June 2013,” Google spokeswoman Sam Smith said. “This app would not be available for distribution on Glass.”
But Franken expressed concern that the app could work if a Glass device is “jailbroken” — a modification that could allow users to bypass Google’s limitations on the device.
FacialNetwork.com, which makes the app, did not respond to a request for comment, but in the company’s promotional materials, it argues that the app will make the world a “much more connected place.”
“It’s much easier to meet interesting new people when we can simply look at someone, see their Facebook, review their LinkedIn page, or maybe even see their dating-site profile. Often we were interacting with people blindly or not interacting at all. NameTag on Google Glass can change all that,” Kevin Alan Tussy, the app’s creator, said in a statement last month.
At the urging of Franken, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a Commerce Department agency, will begin its study of the privacy risks of facial recognition technology at a meeting Thursday.
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