Facebook Smart Glasses – A cause for privacy concern

04-10-2021 | By Sam Brown

Recently, Facebook unveiled its Smart Glasses that enabled wearers to listen to music and take photos, but concerns are surrounding users’ privacy and those around them. What hardware do the smart glasses use, why is there a privacy concern, and will such devices see the end of public privacy?

What hardware does the Facebook Smart Glasses use?

Recently, Facebook announced that it is working in partnership with luxury glasses brand Ray-Ban to create smart glasses. Before we look into the hardware that powers the new glasses, it should be mentioned that calling these glasses ““smart”” is somewhat inaccurate.

Unlike other glasses coming to the market (such as the Xiaomi Smart Glasses), the Facebook design does not integrate a HUD or AR and only has inbuilt headphones and a camera. Furthermore, the device requires a connection to a smartphone to operate and cannot be used independently. The new device is more like an accessory to a smartphone and is definitely not a standalone device.

The exact hardware features of these new glasses have not been released, but we know what type of camera and connectivity will be integrated. According to sources, the new glasses will integrate two 5- megapixel cameras (one at each end of the frame), embedded Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, battery, storage for 500 pictures, and speakers.

The glasses will integrate a button on the side for taking photos and videos, while a touch sensor on the frame will allow for touch gesture control. The speakers used on the device will most likely be the bone conductive variety, and a microphone will allow for voice assistance. The combination of the glasses and a smartphone will enable users to remotely control their device, receive updates, and send commands to their device, including uploading pictures to social media.

Why is there concern regarding privacy?

The glasses will have dual cameras integrated into the frame, and this has made many worry about users recording others in public and private against their wishes. While the device does integrate a forward-facing LED to let others know that the device is recording, there are reports that this LED is not clearly visible.

The second cause for concern is that such glasses can potentially be used as surveillance devices intentionally by the user or unintentionally by a hacker. If successfully hacked, a hacker could quickly determine the user’s location via what they see. Anything observed that may be private in nature would be immediately available to the hacker. The device could also allow the wearer to enter restricted areas and private spaces whereby passwords, passcodes, and pin numbers could be obtained.

The third cause for concern is that the developers of the device, Facebook, are well known for data gathering on its users and selling this data to third parties. As such, Facebook may have backdoor access to connected devices, which would allow them to see what stores users are visiting. This data would further allow for targeted ads towards users, grossly violating user privacy and making users vulnerable to spying at any time.

Will such devices help to end public privacy?

The idea of ““public privacy”” is somewhat of an oxymoron; being in a public space puts one as far away from privacy as possible. However, there is still an element of privacy and anonymity even in public areas where users are not photographed or videoed and can walk about their own business.

The introduction of security cameras across the UK caused large amounts of controversy; many were worried that their privacy would be eroded, their likeness stored on government databases, and they would always be watched. As it turned out, CCTV has helped to catch many criminals and prevent crimes while minimally impacting privacy.

However, the introduction of Smart Glasses gives individual users the ability to record and monitor their surroundings. This is already possible with smartphones and body-worn cameras, but smart glasses can do so more discreetly.

For example, being filmed with a smartphone is fairly obvious, and those uncomfortable can move away from the area. However, the use of smart glasses could easily record those who do not want to be recorded. The use of such recording devices also brings into question whether recording conversations is permitted as the UK has strict laws on how recorded conversations can be gathered and shared.

The development of wearable technologies with cameras and other monitoring devices built into them need to be done so with caution. The security failings of IoT and the widespread misuse of user data see pushback from legislators and regulatory bodies. Introducing devices that can easily monitor the general public could see such devices held back.

By Sam Brown