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Google Glass facial recognition plans thrown on the scrapheap

Google won't be adding facial recognition to Google Glass anytime soon, the search giant has announced.

In a brief blog post, Google said that it is aware of privacy concerns surrounding the layering of such capabilities onto the head-mounted display it debuted in 2012 and has been doling out in limited quantities over the past year.

"When we started the Explorer Program nearly a year ago our goal was simple: we wanted to make people active participants in shaping the future of this technology ahead of a broader consumer launch. We've been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass.

"As Google has said for several years, we won't add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won't be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time," the company wrote in a statement released on Google+.

Google's augmented reality (AR) headsets emerged from the company's Project Glass experiment at the Google I/O show last year, when the company thrilled the crowd with a high-flying demo of Glass and made a limited number of headsets available to conference attendees. Google later expanded its ongoing, real-world testing programme for the technology through limited promotions, but so far has given no indication of when Google Glass will be released to the general public.

But Glass, despite its holding pattern in beta, has already been scrutinised from an ethical perspective by many technology watchers, some of whom have said they're troubled by the challenges to privacy posed by a wearable computer which could potentially be used to photograph people in public spaces without fair warning and which has so far been adopted by a mainly white male demographic.

Many of the early adopters of Glass turned up to this year's Google I/O conference sporting the headsets. Google didn't make much public hay about its experimental technology, but did offer developers some more information about working with the platform, seemingly with an eye towards fostering an ecosystem for the platform if and when it should turn up as an actual consumer product.

In distancing itself from facial recognition capabilities — a particular bogeyman for critics of the technology — Google may be hedging its bets on the AR-driven future it's embraced in past pitches for Glass and similar technologies.

After all, despite its famous "Don't be evil" credo, Google has in recent years been a target of privacy hawks concerned with the company's access to growing amounts of personal information through its search services and mobile device software. Glass in particular was recently the subject of an inquiry in the US.