Through the newspaper or while listening to the radio over the past month, you may have encountered an awareness campaign for smart glasses promoted by Facebook, or Meta, as the company rebranded itself. On its website, Facebook bills the new device as “an authentic way to capture photos and videos, share your adventures, and listen to music or take phone calls.” Prices start at around €300.
According to Facebook, the smart glasses allow you to “conveniently record the world” using the in-built cameras and voice command controls. The glasses are designed “with privacy in mind,” using an LED in the frame that lights up “to let people around you know when you’re taking a photo or video”.
Not everyone is satisfied with this explanation. The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) and its Italian counterpart, Guarante, issued a statement last year expressing concerns about the product. He explained that in contrast, when it comes to smartphones, “what usually happens is that the camera or phone appears as the device through which the recording is taking place”, letting people know that they have been recorded. He is going.
They argued that the effectiveness of smart glasses’ LEDs in notifying individuals that they were being recorded had not been proven. The DPC and Guarante called on Facebook to “demonstrate that the LED indicator light is effective for its purpose”. They also called for “an information campaign to be run to alert the public how this new consumer product may lead to less explicit recordings of their images”.
Smart glasses are not a new concept. Google and Snapchat both have versions, but neither has achieved the ubiquity that Facebook is hoping for. For Facebook, smart glasses, like its Oculus headset, are a step up in what it considers the “next computing platform”: augmented and virtual reality. It sees these devices becoming as common as smartphones.
It is not surprising, then, that he has collaborated with Ray-Ban to produce glasses in his famous Wayfarer style. While Google and Snapchat’s glasses have been criticized for showy designs that draw attention to the technology, Facebook’s offering is subtle and classic, which is more about blending than standing out.
While this approach may work from an aesthetic point of view, it does little to allay fears about covert recordings.
Irish Council for Civil Liberties policy officer Olga Cronin describes smart glasses as “the computers we wear on our noses”. As with all Internet-enabled recording devices, “they present privacy, data collection and security risks, especially if they have facial recognition features or can discreetly record video or audio”.
Echoing the DPC’s concerns, Cronin says: “We’ve seen this information campaign, but we haven’t seen demonstration evidence that this LED indicator light is an effective means of informing people on record.”
Cronin highlights the potential “chilling effect” of this technology in a society where surveillance of everyday life is intensifying.
“Let’s say someone was using these glasses and collecting pictures or videos of people attending specific places or events,” she says. “And suppose they are going to protests or demonstrations or religious events or religious places. It has the ability to discourage people from expressing their opinions publicly or in authoritarian jurisdictions; [it] People who do this can be arrested or prosecuted.”
The issues of smart glasses also highlight a widespread lack of awareness of responsibilities when it comes to recording everyday life. Sarah Kieran, owner of MediaLawyer Solicitors, tells SELF that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has made filming in public places and posting footage in public much more difficult. The legal landscape she describes is a complex one, much of which depends on what users do with the content they record.
Users of these technologies have a responsibility to let others know they are being recorded, if she says “you intend to use it and if you are not in an actual public place”. She points to the difference between places where people have lower expectations of privacy, such as public highways, than parks, where the expectation may be higher.
In a blog post, Facebook says its Smart Glasses campaign aims to “raise awareness of what signs people should look for when glasses are in use”. It also tells users that “if anyone around you indicates they don’t want to be in the photo or video they should stop recording”.
A Meta spokesperson told Analysis: “We are working with our regulatory partners, including DPC as our lead regulator, to help people better understand how this new technology works and they have control.”
Dr. Mary McGill is the author of ‘The Visibility Trap: Sexism, Surveillance and Social Media’ (New Island).