Are You Ready for Google Glass?

It’s small, it weighs very little, and it has the potential to disrupt millions of workplaces.

Google Glass is that cool new toy you’ve been hearing about. A lightweight band worn like regular glasses that features a camera and a small display screen, Glass can take videos, display directions and browse the Internet. It can even be operated by voice command.

Possibilities for workplace benefits are beginning to emerge: Surgeons can get real time data while tending to a patient. Businesses can capture even more data about customers and their buying habits.

But the potential for misuse is enormous. Though a red light is supposed to display when the user is recording video and audio, not everyone will notice it or consent to being filmed, and that recording can be shared with others in real time. Company secrets can be compromised by employees or visitors. Personal privacy can be shredded.

John Sileo, a privacy expert I interviewed recently, says Google Glass and similar devices are part of a wave of inventions cementing the fact that “privacy in public places is dead.” The key issue now is: Is privacy endangered in the workplace?

Not entirely. But HR has some work to do to ensure that the needs of their organizations and the interests of their employees are kept in balance as all this new tech rolls out.

Privacy and HR experts say that the type of business you are in should have some impact on how you handle Glass and similar tech. Some cases are easy: If your firm operates casinos, few would criticize you for banning customer use of Glass. Handle delicate information? You won’t want the Edward Snowden’s of the world walking around with even more tools for causing mischief.

What if a creepy guy starts recording female co-workers surreptitiously? Or an employee attending a meeting makes a recording that could be used in a labor dispute or wind up as evidence in a lawsuit? Even the distraction of a few employees using Glass could disrupt productivity.

Plus: Google Glass is just one device. Smartwatches already being worn by employees pose challenges. And new tech will keep getting smaller, cheaper and easier to hide.

Take a look at your social media policy. Odds are, it isn’t adequate for dealing with wearable technology, says Amy Webb, an expert on technology and privacy. Even though Glass is not even on sale to the public yet, it’s coming, and so are the issues that HR will have to face. It’s not too soon to start talking to employees about these new devices.

“The good news for HR,” says Webb, is that “they have time to work on their policies. The bad news is that they don’t have much time.”

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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