Google Glass, the Internet-connected glasses that are now starting to be delivered in the wild, have been in the news over privacy concerns and other societal issues. Now, terms of service for the Explorer Edition, a limited, early release of the specs, say they cannot be loaned or resold.
The TOS states that if anyone resells or loans the device, 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.” Wired reports that a Philadelphia man who had put his not-yet-shipped Explorer Edition glasses up for sale on eBay canceled the auction — the bids had gone as high as $90,000 — lest Google finds out and revokes his right to buy the glasses. (He had been selected as part of a promotional campaign by Google that expanded the field of testers beyond developers.)
While companies often place restrictions or impose non-disclosure agreements on beta releases of products, Ars Technica points out that Google Explorer Edition glasses’ specs (that’s short for specifications) are not secret, and additionally, the glasses are available to “random people who responded to a query on Twitter.” like the aforementioned Philadelphia man. That man, by the way, told Wired that the only way he found out about the restrictions on lending and selling was through a Glass Explorers Google+ group.
Google has not commented about the TOS, and it’s possible the stringent rules won’t apply to future versions of Glass.
But the issue does highlight the changing definition of ownership in the digital age. It has been debated and litigated and will continue to come up as we buy cloud-based apps, books, music, movies and more. Glass is hardware, but it’s controlled by software that can be remotely disabled. Or take Tesla’s electric vehicles: During the recent drama over a New York Times reporter’s unflattering review of the Model S, it was shown that the company could remotely diagnose problems, plus the company revealed that it turns on data logging when members of the media drive its vehicles.
Examples abound that technological innovations have given companies greater control over the products and services they sell. A couple of instances that come to mind: Amazon once remotely deleted editions of, all things, George Orwell e-books already purchased by Kindle users after they were apparently mistakenly made available on the e-readers; the company later offered an apology, and either replacements or gift certificates. In another case a few years ago, Intel tested a program in which it charged $50 to unlock additional features of processors in computers people had already bought. (See For Some, Intel Unlock-Code Pilot Doesn’t Fly.)
Photo of a Google employee wearing Google Glass by Karl Mondon/BANG archives