Yet again, someone wearing Google Glass was assaulted and had the gadget ripped off their face. People are upset they’re being recorded by Google. But that’s not how Google Glass works — it’s not always recording you and it’s not always on.

You’ll probably run into someone wearing Google Glass one of these days. You don’t have to like Google Glass, but you should know how it works because it will only become more widespread.

It’s Not Always Recording

The biggest misconception about Google Glass is that it’s an always-recording camera that’s always watching and uploading data to the Google mothership. This isn’t true at all. Google Glass is not always recording you, even when it’s on. That person wearing Google Glass while sitting in a bar and talking to someone probably isn’t even using it — they just have it on their face.

It’s not physically possible for Google Glass to be constantly recording. This would drain too much battery power. If Google Glass were always recording, it would only run for about 30 minutes before needing a recharge. People can’t use Glass to record everything.

It’s Not Always On

Not only is Google Glass not always recording, it spends most of its time off. Google Glass consists of a small display over a person’s right eye, a microphone, and a bone conduction headset that sends sounds to the inner ear by vibrating bones. This bone conduction technology may sound a bit like something out of science fiction, but you can purchase bone conduction headsets for under $30 on Amazon. Someone who wants to listen to music while swimming might buy one.

All of these features are normally off. Like a typical smartphone, Google Glass spends most of its time in standby mode. It wakes up for a few specific reasons. It only wakes up automatically when a notification arrives — someone may choose to see their incoming text messages on Glass. Unless a notification arrives, it will only turn on when its wearer chooses to turn it on. It doesn’t wake up automatically to record you, just like a smartphone doesn’t wake up automatically to listen to you.

It’s Not Always Listening

Google Glass can be turned on by saying “OK Glass.” Does this mean it’s always listening? Yes, but not in the way you might think.

This feature functions similarly to the “OK Google” feature on the Moto X and Nexus 5 smartphones and the “Xbox On” feature on the Xbox One. Google Glass has a low-power audio processor that’s constantly capturing audio data and analyzing it to see if it matches these words. If it does match these words, the device — whether it’s Google Glass, a smartphone, or an Xbox — will turn on and await further input.

The low-power audio processor just listens for these words. It doesn’t listen for any other words, send what it hears to Google, or archive it for later. All this processing happens locally. Google Glass couldn’t be always listening and uploading to Google — it just wouldn’t have the battery power to upload the data or save it.

How to Tell If Someone is Using Glass

You can tell if Google Glass is on. Look at the display above the person’s right eye. If it’s on, you’ll see a small light — you can see the tiny display that they’re seeing up close. By looking for this light, you can tell whether a Google Glass user is using their device or not.

Google Glass can be activated by saying “OK Glass,” moving your head in a certain way, or using the touchpad on the frame. To take a video or photo, a Google Glass user has to say “OK Glass, take a picture,” press the camera button above their right eye, or wink — this last one is a recent development. By default, Glass only records 10 seconds of video when its wearer chooses to record a video. Glass isn’t surreptitiously capturing videos and photos of you — it should be pretty obvious if someone is taking videos and photos.

Let’s be honest. Google Glass isn’t much worse than a smartphone. People constantly walk around with their smartphones held up in front of them — we’ve even seen people do this in public restrooms, probably just to read text messages — and no one bats an eye. Those people could be taking photos and videos of you with their smartphone’s camera, but smartphones have just become normal. Someone holding up a smartphone probably isn’t recording you, and someone wearing Google Glass probably isn’t either.

You don’t have to like Google Glass, and you may not want people using it in social situations with you — if only because it’s distracting — but you should at least understand how it works. Google Glass and other wearable gadgets will only become more widespread in the future.

Image Credit: EricaJoy on Flickr, Ted Eytan on Flickr, Ted Eytan on Flickr, Ted Eytan on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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