Facebook has unleashed trendy, privacy-invading, camera-laden sunglasses onto the world when the social media company launched its first pair of smart glasses last week.
A collaboration between Facebook and eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica, the glasses – called Ray-Ban Stories – feature a pair of 5MP cameras, open air headphones, and trio of microphones to make calls and control the device’s on-board assistant.
Ray-Ban Stories are designed to produce video and photo content from a first-person perspective akin to a Go-Pro or social media rival Snap’s Spectacle smart glasses.
In a video announcing Stories, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg describes the glasses as an “important step” in reaching a future where “you won’t have to choose between interacting with your device and interacting with the world around you”.
“Glasses are going to be an important part of building the next computing platform and unlocking a whole new set of experiences for people,” Zuckerberg said.
“We wanted to build something that would enable you to easily capture and share experiences from your point of view.”
Stories wearers can record short 30 second video clips and take photos with the press of a button, or through simple voice assistant commands like ‘hey Facebook, record a video’ facilitated through an array of microphones.
Video clips and pictures are stored on the device which syncs with the Facebook View app, allowing users to tinker with and share their new first-person content.
The Stories also have open-air headphones, like those seen in Bose Frames, which let the user listen to audio content and make phone calls.
Style and social networks
What Facebook’s first smart glasses lack in cutting edge features – the ill-fated Google Glass had similar video recording features plus an in-built user-interface all the way back in 2013 – it makes up with two key points of differentiation: style and the network effect.
The first aspect is seen through Facebook’s partnership with EssilorLuxottica, owner of designer eyewear brands from Burberry to Versace as well as, crucially, Ray-Bans whose iconic Wayfarer frames are nearly as ubiquitous as Facebook itself.
EssilorLuxottica’s involvement means it may be more difficult to spot someone wearing a pair of Ray-Bans Stories than in previous smart glasses iterations such as Google Glass whose wearers were mockingly nicknamed ‘glassholes’.
Facebook’s social media dominance – the company owns WhatsApp and Instagram as well as its own 2.9 billion-strong social network – likely means users will soon be flooded with new forms of first-person content from early Stories wearers, helping normalise the use of glasses with in-built cameras.
This paves the way for later iterations of more feature-rich augmented reality (AR) smart glasses once the technology is “developed and miniaturised,” as Zuckerberg put it.
“Imagine seeing holograms, turn-by-turn directions or being able to play chess in front of you with your loved one 3,000 miles away right from your glasses,” he said.
“With future AR glasses you’re going to be able to share more experiences together.”
Facebook was naturally aware of the privacy concerns its new product was bound to invoke, given the company’s business model requires effectively selling user data to advertisers, along with its regular involvement in data privacy scandals.
So how is Facebook managing the risk that people could surreptitiously record one another using their sunnies?
As Zuckerberg explained, “We put this LED light on the front of the glasses so that people around you will know when you’re taking a photo or video”.
It’s more, he says, than most smartphones do to warn other people they are being recorded. Users are warned that “tampering with this light is against our terms of service,” but there is no guarantee people won’t find a way to circumvent the device’s main privacy feature.
Facebook has tips for wearing its smart glasses “responsibly” which includes respecting people’s desire not to be recorded, turning the devices off in private spaces like public bathrooms, and to “be a good community member”.
The onus appears entirely on the wearer to not misuse their new surveillance equipment, something Italian privacy regulators have reportedly queried the company about, asking for more information about how Facebook plans to protect the rights of bystanders – including children – in line with Europe’s strict privacy laws.