Ireland Privacy Regulator Quizzes Facebook Over Smart Glasses

The office of Ireland’s Data Privacy Commissioner (DPC) said it has asked Facebook to demonstrate that an LED indicator light on the newly launched Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses is an “effective means” to alert people that they’re being filmed or photographed.

This makes Ireland the latest to indicate it has privacy concerns around Facebook’s newly launched smart glasses.

Ireland is Facebook’s lead data regulator in the EU as the social media company’s European headquarters is in Dublin.

The glasses allow users to listen to music, take calls or capture photos and short videos and share them on Facebook and its subsidiary services via a companion app.

Image credit: Facebook

‘Small’ indicator

The DPC said the indicator light on the glasses is “very small” and that it was not clear whether “comprehensive testing in the field” had been carried out to determine whether it was effective.

“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 regulator said in a statement.

“With the glasses, there is a very small indicator light that comes on when recording is occurring. It has not been demonstrated to the DPC and Garante that comprehensive testing in the field was done by Facebook or Ray-Ban to ensure the indicator LED light is an effective means of giving notice.”

The Italian data regulator, the Garante, or Garante per la protezione dei dati personali, earlier this month asked the Irish DPC to query Facebook over the glasses’ privacy protections.

Information campaign

The Garante’s questions focused on what  measures Facebook has put into place to protect people who may be filmed, in particular children, and on systems adopted to anonymise the data collected by the devices.

The Irish DPC said it shared the Garante’s concerns and said it wants Facebook to run an information campaign to alert the public about how the glasses can be used to record their images.

A review of the glasses by the Daily Mail found that the white indicator light used to alert others the device is recording was “very subtle” and was “easily missed”, and that recording could be initiated by “very surreptitiously” pressing a button.

The devices’ recording capabilities have caused concerns with privacy-oriented groups, particularly considering Facebook’s poor record on data protection.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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