Privacy Concerns Raised Over FB Smart Glasses

Published · Sep 25, 2021

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) raised concerns over Facebook’s new smart glasses—Facebook View. The main issue is the glasses’ ability to record footage, with only a small LED light to indicate they’re recording.

The Irish and Italian Data Protection bodies want bystanders to be able to tell when people are recording them. According to a DPC statement, they have asked Facebook to show that the LED is noticeable. However, the company hasn’t demonstrated that it has done sufficient field testing. 

Data privacy is of increasing concern worldwide. The EU General Data Protection Regulation aims to tighten control. Entities operating within Europe or processing the data of European citizens must comply with everything in the regulation.

While this can be tricky, it’s a relatively straightforward process for online and even physical businesses to make sure their terms of use are consistent with the GDPR. They must make sure users are aware of what data is they are collecting, the processes available so users can request takedowns, and so on.

Things become more ambiguous when anyone who can afford a pair of Facebook’s glasses starts walking around with discrete data collectors on their faces.

Is This Thing On?

The DPC points out that most recording devices are obvious in their use. For instance, it’s clear when someone is recording on their phone or camera in a public place. Smart glasses on the other hand are more discrete.

The glasses are equipped with a white LED that switches on when they’re recording, but how noticeable is it? There’s also nothing stopping people from disabling the LED or putting a small piece of black tape over it.

With data collection, in this case, photos of someone, there has to be implicit or explicit consent. The former occurs when someone knows they’re being recorded but don’t object. People can give the latter after reading a service’s privacy policy, for example.

Ultimately, parties must be informed when they are recorded, and be able to object. Facebook responded with a stock statement about “educating people on new technology” but refrained from assurances.

The company is already under scrutiny by the DPC for WhatsApp data practices, so it must walk a fine line.

Technology of this type has the potential for broad applications and will become attractive as it develops. In theory, police officers, government workers, and even store employees could take advantage of them. They could use them to perform quick background checks in real-time or gather data for subsequent people searches.

The tech and its possible applications need stringent oversight. Google Glasses were subject to the same scrutiny and ultimately failed when the company couldn’t prove its utility.

Consumers simply weren’t as excited about them as Google had hoped. It remains to be seen whether Facebook View can succeed where Google Glasses failed.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.