Here’s why you’re seeing so many ads for Meta’s smart glasses

24 Aug 2022

Ray-Ban Stories. Image: Meta

Meta was called on to run an information campaign making the public aware of how the Ray-Ban Stories glasses record footage.

If you’ve been wondering why Meta has been so many running ads related to smart glasses across Irish media lately, it’s to do with privacy concerns.

Meta launched its Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses last year as part of a collaboration with the eyewear maker. The glasses appear identical to regular spectacles or sunglasses.

But they have 5MP cameras on each arm that can be activated by voice command or by pressing a tiny button on the glasses. Users can take photos and up to 30-second videos in hands-free way, while there are also microphones and open-ear speakers built in.

The glasses sparked concern from Ireland’s data watchdog, which posited that this tech would enable a person to be recorded in a much more subtle manner than if the recording was done with a smartphone or standard camera.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) called on Meta, then Facebook, to run an information campaign to make the public aware of how the glasses can record video and images.

Ads began running on TV, radio and other places earlier this year.

These ads explain how the tech works to people who might not be familiar with smart glasses. They raise awareness of the possibility of recording footage and images on the glasses, and how people can spot that a recording is in progress.

So what’s the issue?

When Ray-Ban Stories was launched, Meta addressed privacy concerns by highlighting that a visible LED light appears on the glasses whenever they are capturing images or recording video.

The DPC was not convinced by this, however. It said in a statement at the time that when devices such as smartphones record footage, they are held up in a noticeable way so a person could know they are being recorded.

Italy’s data watchdog, Garante, had similar concerns regarding the recording function on the product.

“With the glasses, there is a very small indicator light that comes on when recording is occurring,” the DPC said last September.

“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.

“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.”

Meta has been keen not only to make the public aware that recording through wearable tech such as smart glasses is a possibility, but also to impress a sense of personal responsibility on people who use smart glasses.

The company has released privacy tips, suggesting that users respect other people’s right to privacy and be careful when recording footage without consent or capturing footage of minors. It also suggests turning off the glasses in private spaces and not tampering with the LED warning light.

“Be respectful of people nearby,” it adds. “Use a voice command or clear gesture to let them know you’re about to capture.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.