Facebook asked to show how its smart glasses work amid privacy concerns

20 Sep 2021

Image: Facebook

Ireland’s DPC has asked Facebook to run an information campaign to alert the public of how its new smart glasses can record images.

Ireland’s data watchdog has asked Facebook to show that an LED indicator light on its new smart glasses is effective at notifying people when the glasses are recording images.

The request comes following privacy concerns that the glasses can film and take photographs in a much more subtle way than if someone had to raise a phone to do the same.

The tech giant launched Ray-Ban Stories earlier this month in an attempt to succeed in the smart glasses realm where others have failed.

As part of the launch, the company was eager to note that a highly visible LED lights up on the outside of the glasses whenever they’re capturing photo or video, so people can’t be recorded without their knowledge.

However, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) and Italy’s data watchdog, Garante, are not convinced that this sufficiently notifies people that they are being recorded.

In a statement, the DPC said that while it is accepted that many devices such as smartphones can record third-party individuals, the camera or phone is usually visible, making those being recorded aware of the situation.

“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 DPC said in a statement.

“Accordingly, the DPC and Garante 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.”

Facebook has been under scrutiny from the DPC several times over the last number of years with many investigations still ongoing.

By the end of 2020, the DPC had 27 cross-border inquiries on hand, with more than half of these relating to Facebook or Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp.

Most recently, Facebook-owned WhatsApp Ireland was issued the largest ever fine by the DPC for breaches under GDPR.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic