April 17, 2013 at 2:05 PM ET
On a help page for its futuristic Glass headgear, Google is warning potential users that it may cause eye strain or a headache, and recommends that children under 13 should not use it. It also suggests those who had Lasik surgery should ask their doctor about "risks of eye impact damage" before using. Is this overly cautious legalese on Google's part — or a real reason to steer clear of Glass?
The full FAQ entry reads:
Glass isn’t for everyone.
Like when wearing glasses, some people may feel eye strain or get a headache. If you’ve had Lasik surgery, ask your doctor about risks of eye impact damage before using Glass. Don’t let children under 13 use Glass as it could harm developing vision. Also, kids might break Glass or hurt themselves, and Google’s terms of service don’t permit those under 13 to register a Google account. If Glass is not for you and you wish to return it, do so before the end of the applicable refund period.
Google Glass is a head-worn camera-equipped computer that resembles eyeglasses. It pairs with a smartphone and can go online via Wi-Fi as well, and communicates with the user via a tiny display and a bone-conduction speaker. The display sits just above the field of view on just one side. Unless the user looks up — for instance, to see a new message — views are uninterrupted.
"We've studied design comfort and safety very closely, and we haven't found cause for concern," a Google spokesperson clarified to NBC News. "It’s something we’ll continue to watch carefully. We have been working with ophthalmologists throughout our development process." The spokesperson also said that Glass has not been tested on children.
Dr. James Salz, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, hasn't used or studied Glass specifically, but he has looked at the publicly available materials related to the device.
He expressed surprise in regard to Google's warning for children under 13. "It's probably for some legal reason," he remarked. "I don't really see any hard scientific reason why that would be true." While there are certain issues which should be addressed at a young age, Salz told NBC News, "usually it's felt that by the time [children] are six or seven, their eyes are mature."
For adults, Salz compares what you could potentially experience while using Glass to reading a small-print book for hours. "Other than feeling a bit uncomfortable or getting a headache from this ... there's no evidence that this would do permanent damage to your eye."
"That feeling of eye strain is not going to translate to eye damage," he reiterates.
The only other concern may be dryness: "If you're wearing these a lot and concentrating on the images [on the display] a lot, you might get some dry eyes." He compares these issues to what happens if someone is using a computer for a prolonged time and blinking at a decreased rate. Eyes may feel dry and irritated, but don't suffer permanent harm.
"Once everybody starts using these, they'll find out what their tolerance is," Salz concludes.
Google provided a prepared statement from Dr. Eli Peli, a professor of opthalmology at Harvard Medical School who has been "offering advice and guidance" to the Glass team, specifically regarding safety and comfort, for almost two years.
"All told, the results we see so far are encouraging," reads Peli's statement. "As with regular eyeglasses or a new spectacle prescription, some people's eyes take a bit longer to adjust to these systems."
Peli's statement did not address the use of Google Glass by kids under 13.
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