Data Protection Regulator Queries Facebook On Smart Glasses

Italy’s data protection office has asked Facebook to clarify questions on its newly launched smart glasses, underscoring the privacy concerns around the device.

The glasses, called Ray-Ban Stories, launched last week and come in iconic Ray-Ban styles such as Wayfarer, Round and Meteor, with prices starting at £299 (US$299 AU$449).

Besides allowing the wearer to listen to music and take calls, the glasses can also take pictures and record 30-second videos, which can be shared across Facebook’s services using a companion app.

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

Image credit: Facebook

Data concerns

The Italian data regulator said it has called on the Irish data protection commissioner, to ask Facebook for information on 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 Italian regulator also asked for information on the features of the glasses’ voice assistant.

The glasses can take a photo if the user utters the phrase “Hey Facebook”. In the past, some voice assistants have faced controversy for recording the ambient sounds and conversations around them as they listen for command phrases.

The Irish DPC leads the EU’s oversight of Facebook because the company’s European headquarters are based in the country.

The Facebook glasses are being sold online and in some stores in Italy as well as the US, UK, Canada, Ireland and Australia.

‘Peace of mind’

At launch Facebook said it was aware of the potential privacy issues around smart glasses, which helped to sink Google’s Glass project in the 2010s.

“From the start, we designed Ray-Ban Stories with privacy in mind, adding numerous built-in features to provide control and peace of mind to both device owners and bystanders,” the company said last week.

In tips included in the View companion app and a website, Facebook advises users not to engage in “harmful activities like harassment, infringing on privacy rights, or capturing sensitive information like pin codes”.

The company said it consulted with privacy groups on the design of the glasses.

The devices include a white LED visible from 25 feet away that illuminates when a photo or video is being taken, and allow users to choose what they want to share via the View app, rather than automatically sending what’s recorded to Facebook and the other apps the company owns.

Augmented Reality

Facebook in March showed a concept wristband that reads neural signals to help users interact with planned Augmented Reality (AR) glasses, which are planned for release later this year.

Those devices would be a step up from Ray-Ban Stories, overlaying digital imagery on the user’s view of the outside world.

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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