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Open Letter on Google’s Opposition to Distracted Driving Legislation

To: All State Legislators, State Attorneys General, and State/Local Police Chiefs

In Reuter’s article, “Google Sets Roadblocks to Stop Distracted Driver Legislation,” we learn “Google is lobbying officials in at least three U.S. States to stop proposed restrictions on driving with headsets such as Google Glass.”

As your States carefully consider the potential safety repercussions of a rapidly increasing number of drivers using Google Glass on your State’s roads in the years ahead, it is in the public interest to be keenly aware of two important facts.

  1. Google Glass is very distracting.
  2. Google often shows a reckless disregard for people’s safety.  

 Why Google Glass is the Epitome of Distracted Driving

CNET Editor Molly Wood produced an excellent 2 minute video worth watching that shows why Google Glass, combined with motion, is dangerous and “a disaster waiting to happen.”

Think about it. Google Glass projects a small screen up and away from one’s normal field of vision.

Google trumpets Glass as a hands free device, implying no or less distraction. That is highly misleading because Glass is not an eye-free device; it’s an eye-attention device.

To gain Google Glass’s benefits one must shift one’s vision and cognitive attention away from what they are doing and refocus their vision and cognitive attention on a very small projected screen above one’s eye, which can take time, especially in the changing lighting environment of driving.   

Who other than Google imagines that a driver can do the Glass-equivalent of reading a Twitter feed, scrolling through search results, or looking at maps on a small screen above one’s right eye and not be distracted from the road? All of these things take at least seconds to do and also require one to refocus their eyes from natural wide-vision to unnaturally narrow-up-vision, and back to natural wide-vision -- repeatedly.

Not surprising, Google Glass causes eye-strain headaches. Chris Barrett, one of Google Glass’s earliest and most publicly supportive Google “Glass Explorers” explains that regular Glass usage does cause headaches. Wouldn’t vision-strain headaches distract a driver too?  

Some apps for Google Glass operate by winking (closing) one’s eyes. Closing one’s eyes while driving, to do things other than driving, could be a definition of distracted driving.

Tellingly, Google’s main public defense ignores entirely the issue of whether Google Glass usage would distract a driver, and stresses Google’s good intentions: Google Glass “is not meant to distract, but rather connect people more with the world around them.” Google does not get that encouraging people to “connect” their attention to something else than the road while driving is effectively encouraging distracted driving.

It is especially telling that Google in its recent guidance to Google Glass Explorers urging them not to be “Glassholes,” Google apparently did not expressly urge users to never use Google Glass when driving in order to protect their safety and the safety of others on the road.   

Google’s Pattern of Reckless Disregard for People’s Safety 

Sadly, no one should be surprised that Google does not care enough for their users’ safety or the public’s safety, to agree with the obvious that using Google Glass while operating a moving vehicle could be distracted driving. Google has often put its interests above others’ safety.

Tellingly, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in a (11-27-13) letter to Google CEO Larry Page wrote: “In my 10 years as attorney general, I have dealt with a lot of large corporate wrongdoers. I must say that yours is the first I have encountered to have no corporate conscience for the safety of its customers…”

From 2004-2011, Google engaged in broad business practices that had a reckless disregard for human life, health and safety. Google admitted to knowingly and repeatedly violating Federal criminal laws against theunsafe and unlawful importation of prescription drugs" for several years, in a criminal non-prosecution agreement. Google paid a near record $500m criminal forfeiture penalty.

The Rhode Island U.S. Attorney who led the Google criminal probe said the evidence was clear that current Google CEO “Larry Page knew what was going on." No one knows how many Americans may have been harmed or even potentially killed from unsafe or counterfeit prescription drugs that Google knowingly and illegally mass-marketed to the American public from 2004-2011. (Also see report of “The Public Evidence that Google Has Violated the DOJ-Google Criminal Non-Prosecution Agreement.)

Google also has an ingrained disregard for protecting people’s privacy. For example, ever since Google created Google Apps for Education, Google has illegally been invading the privacy of children, minors, and college students without their consent by creating personal profiles of the student from Gmail, search, Docs etc., in order to target students with ads when they are out of school, in apparent gross violation of federal and state privacy laws.

In addition, Google’s standard no curation policy, i.e. no managerial oversight to detect or prevent illegal activity, has allowed Google’s social network, Google+, to become a virtual playground for online predators. (Please see a tech whistleblowers report and Consumer Watchdog’s letter to Google for further explanation and facts.)

Tellingly, when confronted with the illegal predatory activity against minors on Google+, Google banned the particular predators, but did not change the core policy that created the problem and would allow the predators to return and continue to prey on different minors in the future. Astonishingly, Google still allows anyone to join anyone else’s Google Circle without a person’s permission. This allows any predator to join any child’s Circle and the child or parent cannot remove that person from their Circle, despite longstanding repeated complaints to Google from parents concerned for their children’s safety.  

These are just a few of the examples of Google showing a reckless disregard for people’s safety throughout Google’s business operation. If one wants even more evidence to more fully understand this point, please see Google’s Consolidated Rap Sheet as of June 2013.

In short, State legislators, State Attorneys General, and State and Local Police, should have a very healthy skepticism about whether to trust Google’s word that Google Glass would not distract drivers or put the public’s safety at risk.

They also need to be keenly aware that this is not Google’s first time operating its business with a reckless disregard for people’s safety; sadly it is endemic to the Google culture of unaccountability.

Forewarned is forearmed.


Scott Cleland

Publisher, &

Author, Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google

President, Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 clients, some of which are Google competitors

McLean Virginia, USA