Facebook Smart Glasses Under Fire for Privacy Issues

Cameras, cameras everywhere

Key Takeaways

  • Facebook recently announced its new smart glasses, but privacy advocates are expressing their concern that people may not know they are being recorded.
  • Ireland’s privacy regulator wants Facebook to launch a public awareness campaign about the new glasses.
  • The glasses are also vulnerable to being hacked, just like any other internet-connected device.
woman wearing Facebook's new Ray-Ban Smart Glasses and activating the camera

Facebook

Facebook’s new smart glasses are coming under fire from privacy advocates. 

Ireland's data privacy regulator recently asked Facebook to prove that an LED indicator light on the social media giant's newly launched smart glasses is "an effective means" to let people know they are being filmed or photographed. The glasses contain cameras that are intended to allow users to document their daily lives. 

"Just the thought of someone with these glasses in a public place gives me the creeps," privacy expert Pankaj Srivastava told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Facing the Music

Previous attempts at making smart glasses have faced a backlash. Google met resistance from privacy advocates with its Glass project, and some users even were labeled "Glassholes." 

However, Facebook is reviving the idea with its first pair of smart glasses made in partnership with Ray-Ban, called Ray-Ban Stories.

The new Stories are available for $299. The frames have two front-facing cameras for capturing video and photos. There’s a physical button on the glasses for recording, or you can say, "Hey Facebook, take a video" to control them hands-free.

Ireland's Data Privacy Commissioner, the lead regulator of Facebook under the European Union's data privacy laws, said it wants Facebook to run a public information campaign on how the Stories may alert others they're being recorded.

"While it is accepted that many devices including smartphones can record third party individuals, it is generally the case that the camera or the phone is visible as the device by which recording is happening, thereby putting those captured in the recordings on notice," the Irish regulator said in a news release.

Privacy Concerns 

Facebook says data captured through its smart glasses will not be accessed without consent, and that it will be an "ad-free experience."

However, Facebook’s past actions "serve as a dire warning, and consumers should be extremely cautious," Srivastava said. "As the footprint of what all Facebook can know and analyze about our 'on-the-move' behavior, there will be increased opportunities to partner with others and share this data and information for monetization purposes."

"Just the thought of someone with these glasses in a public place gives me the creeps."

The LED lights on the glasses meant to serve as a warning to others aren’t conspicuous enough, Srivastava said. 

"What does Facebook expect me to do when I am being recorded without consent—go pick a fight?" he added. "The path of least resistance would be to walk away, and that infringes on my right to freedom of movement. What about children in public places? Will they be able to recognize the situation and do something about it? Most likely, people will just not realize that their images have been recorded."

The Stories are also vulnerable to being hacked like any other internet-connected device, pointed out privacy expert Santosh Putchala in an email interview with Lifewire. 

"Once the threat actor gains access to the IoT wearable device, device parameters including settings can be accessed and manipulated," he said. "It all depends on the level of attack sophistication and the ability of the device to resist such attack."

Ran-Ban smart glasses in black

Ray-Ban

And, Putchala said, some users may underestimate the privacy and security risks because of the Ray-Ban brand name’s "cool factor." 

"The truth is that some users will see these glasses as a fashion statement, while others will see it as an infringement of privacy," he added. 

Users also have limited legal protection against having pictures taken of them, especially outside their own homes or in an otherwise private area such as a bathroom, security expert John Bambenek told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"More importantly, even if there was, there is very little practical protection against this technology being used to record and take pictures as most people would be oblivious that someone in a crowd of people was wearing these glasses," he added.

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