google-glass

When you purchase a technology, do you actually own it? If your answer is “yes,” you might be sad to know that the issue isn’t so black and white. Software packages are well known for EULAs (end user license agreements) that forbid resales, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed it up last year by ruling that licensing language controls those kinds of secondary distribution. In other words, you don’t own a program — you bought the license that basically lets you rent it.

The mobile industry has had its fair share of dust-ups over similar issues, particularly when it comes to carrier unlocking, and now it seems that the newly available Google Glass is getting in on the act too.

As early backers are getting their hands on the first wave of these much-anticipated devices, reports are swelling on the Web about Google’s terms of service governing them. The company does not allow Glass owners to “resell, loan, transfer, or give your device to any other person. If you resell, loan, transfer, or give your device to any other person without Google’s authorization, 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.”

Tough words, especially for a Philadelphia man named Ed. When he attempted to sell his limited-edition device on eBay, the bids surged past $90,000. Not bad for a $1,500 gadget.

But, he explains to Wired, he didn’t know about Google’s ToS at the time. And when he found out about it on the Glass Explorers Google+ group, he immediately yanked the eBay auction. Now he’s afraid the company will find out about the attempted sale and take some kind of action. After all, sales and registrations are tied to a user’s Google account, making it extremely easy for Google to track who’s using the device. As such, Ed nervously agreed to share his story with the tech magazine, but only if it would run it without his last name.

This level of fear and paranoia is kind of breathtaking. Sure, Ed was selected for the Google Explorers program via the #IfIHadGlass Twitter promotion, making him a contest winner of sorts. But when all is said and done, he’s not getting anything for free. He will have paid $1,500 out of his own pocket for a device that he clearly doesn’t own outright.

Is this a sign of things to come? Will more companies start stuffing their hardware ToSes with more rights and usage stipulations? Hard to say. Google Glass is not widely available for public consumption yet, which puts it in the pre-release stage. This could just be an interim solution, to prevent much-too-early impressions and reviews of a still developing technology. The company could change those terms once the launch actually arrives. But the $1,500 question is, will it? We’ll have to wait to find out.

In the meantime, if you happen to know people who are getting that highly intriguing limited-edition device, do them a favor — don’t ask them if you can borrow it. You could spur Google into hitting the kill switch on it.