Will prescription lenses change how society reacts to Google Glass?

November 8, 2013

Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears Google Glass . (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Earlier this week, a company called Rochester Optical announced -- on Google+, no less -- it will be producing custom prescription lenses for Google Glass. The post says lenses will be available for purchase in early 2014. That matches up with the timeline Google set out for the next wave of Google Glass last week. The arrival of prescription options doesn't mean that optically impaired people everywhere will suddenly decide to swap out their traditional eyewear for wearable computing devices. But if even a small class of the corrective lens-wearers are able to say they need to put on their Google Glass to see, it could change legal and social expectations about the device.

For example, prescription Google Glasses could complicate the enforcement of traffic laws. As my colleague Brian Fung reported, we've already seen at least one ticket issued in California to a driver who was wearing glass (and allegedly speeding) -- and that's because "under California rules, video screens are prohibited anywhere ahead of the front seats unless they're displaying GPS information, a map, or information about the car itself."

But traffic laws vary from state to state. For instance, a Raleigh reporter was recently told by her local police station that if a driver was using Google Glass to send or read electronic material "it would fall under the same statute that covers texting while driving and would have the same restrictions and the same caveats."  Just wearing the device probably wouldn't result in a ticket because an officer would need "probable cause" to determine that the device was in use. So there's an awful lot of inconsistency already. And sure, most glasses wearers will probably have a non-Google Glass pair of glasses around. But it's easy to imagine a die-hard Google Glass user forgetting their other pair at home, getting a ticket, and then challenging it on the grounds that "well, actually, I needed to wear my Google Glass so I could see the road."

And then there's also some social etiquette questions. Not everyone is comfortable with having Google Glass around -- there have even been a fair number of stories about businesses banning them from the premises or considering new privacy policies because of them. But if you're wary of the device right now, you can always (politely) ask the wearer to remove them when you're around. As someone who is nearly blind without corrective lenses, I can promise you that that option will be a lot less viable if the wearer can't see without them.

In short, the addition of prescription lenses to Google Glass could turn it from an optional luxury to an integral part of a wearer's day-to-day experience.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Timothy B. Lee · November 8, 2013