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Facebook’s new smart glasses are making some EU regulators nervous

Reacting to concerns raised by data protection authorities, Facebook claimed that the glasses were made with privacy in mind

Credit: Unsplash

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission has expressed its concerns regarding Facebook’s new wearable technology product, Ray-Ban Stories, a pair of glasses that allows a user to record short videos and take photos for posting on social media.

Their concern: “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. With the glasses, there is a very small indicator light that comes on when recording is occurring,” said the Irish DPC in a statement.

The Irish DPC said that Facebook did not conduct a demonstration for the regulatory body regarding the effectiveness of the LED light on Facebook View. The social media platform claims that the LED light ‘is an effective means of giving notice’.

Accordingly, the DPC.. are now calling on Facebook Ireland to confirm and demonstrate that the LED indicator light is effective for its purpose and to run an information campaign to alert the public as to how this new consumer product may give rise to less obvious recording of their images — Ireland Data Protection Commission

Similar concerns raised by Italy’s data protection authority

Earlier, the Italian Garante per la Protezione dei Dati Personali (Italian SA) had requested the Irish Data Protection Commission to urge Facebook to provide their replies to a set of questions prior to the marketing of the smart glasses in Italy.

In the past few days the Italian SA had actually sought the cooperation of the DPC to convey several questions complementing the exchanges that had already taken place between the DPC and Facebook. The Italian SA’s questions are intended to gather information in order to assess whether the new device is factually compliant with privacy legislation — Italian SA

The Italian SA asked Facebook about:

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  • Legal basis for Facebook to process the personal data
  • The measures in place to safeguard bystanders, especially children
  • Any mechanisms to anonymise the collected information
  • Features of the voice assistant used to operate the glasses

‘Designed with privacy in mind’: Facebook

Around two weeks back, Ray-Ban and Facebook introduced Ray-Ban Stories, which are smart glasses that allow wearers to capture photos and videos, listen to music, or answer phone calls. Every pair of the Ray-Ban Stories will be paired with an app, Facebook View, through which one can share their photos and videos taken by the glasses, Facebook said in a press release.

Features of Ray-Ban Stories —

  • Two cameras of 5 MP each
  • HDR, low light, video stabilisation, and denoising features
  • Set of micro-speakers
  • Three-microphone audio array
  • Snapdragon processor

While claiming that the wearable glasses were made with privacy in mind, Facebook said that it has an LED hardwired to the camera “that shines a white light when you’re taking photos or videos to notify people nearby”.

For the Facebook View app, the social media platform said, one can set their personal preferences for importing photos and videos. “The ability to control your settings and content were top concerns for people in user research we conducted on wearable technology and privacy,” Facebook said.

Data collected by Ray-Ban Stories —

  • Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses collect data like battery status
  • Email address and password for Facebook login for verification purposes while logging into Facebook View app
  • WiFi connectivity
  • One can opt-in to share: Number of images captured
    • How long one spends taking videos for product development, improvement, and personalisation.

This setting can be changed at any time, Facebook added.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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