NPR reports that 24-year-old Stephen Balaban, one of the developers behind the axed Google Glass app that was capable of facial recognition, is developing his own alternative operating system for Glass that Google can't control. Why? So that it's possible to do things on Glass that Google's designers didn't have in mind… like facial recognition.
On Thursday Balaban said he wasn't surprised when Google "reacted harshly" to his facial recognition app. Indeed it caused concern for consumers and in Washington, leading the government to ask Google a list of questions about the potential havoc Google Glass could have on privacy. Google responded to the overall backlash by changing its terms of service, banning apps that are capable of facial recognition, pornographic material and more.
Of course, that hasn't stopped Explorer developers as they test the boundaries of this growing new platform. "In a case where you have [a product] that is so different from what is on the market currently, you really have to do these living laboratories where you figure out what the social and technical issues are before you release it more widely," said Thad Starner, a professor of computer science at Georgia Tech and a manager at Google Glass.
Marc Rogers, a principal security researcher at Lookout Security, said it's a good thing that Google Glass is in the hands of thousands of hackers and "tinkerers". They're good at rooting out vulnerabilities, improving software and fixing software, and will do so long before Glass becomes a commercial product. Most of the Glass vulnerabilities should be plugged by the time the specs hit the market in mid-2014.
Case in point: Rogers actually discovered that a hacker could hijack Glass by tricking the wearer into taking a picture of a malicious QR code. Thus, this particular problem isn't only technical, but on a social level as well. The good news is that this method was discovered long before Glass became a retail product. "That's the great service our [Google Glass] explorers are doing for us," Starner added. "They are actually teaching us what these issues are and how we can address them."
But how does a new OS for Glass developed outside Google help the gadget's evolution? Just as the company banned facial recognition software, it will likely ban the use of an alternate operating system, maybe even implement a way to prevent installation. Since the Explorer program's launch, Google has even banned users from selling, renting, leasing and giving away Glass. More changes in policy will surely come over the next twelve months.
"Google reserves the right to deactivate the Device, and neither you nor the unauthorized person using the Device will be entitled to any refund, product support, or product warranty," the company states in its Device Specific Addendum. That may change with the retail version, as the Resale and Gifts section in Google's terms states that "you may give the Device as a gift, unless otherwise set forth in the Device Specific Addendum."
Right now, Google is not only shaping the hardware, but how it will be integrated into society. Meanwhile, a potential operating system that allows developers to run the very apps Google is banning sounds like bad news. And by the look of Balaban's huge smile plastered all over NPR's article, we'd say he's rather excited over the prospect of scaring even more politicians in Washington.