Irish DPC threatens probe over Facebook’s Ray-Ban smart glasses

The Irish data regulator is concerned about the potential for users to engage in covert filming

Ireland’s data protection regulator is investigating the recently launched Facebook Stories augmented reality (AR) glasses over concerns that users can record people without their knowledge.

Facebook’s smart glasses, developed in collaboration with Ray-Ban, feature a pair of 5MP cameras to capture photos and film, as well as a microphone and speakers so users can listen to media or use the voice assistant. The device pairs with a smartphone app branded Facebook View.

To indicate to others that film is being captured, each pair of glasses features a subtle LED indicator located above the lens that flashes on. This can be dimmed, but not disabled, in the interests of privacy. Recording film is also limited to 30 seconds. 

Both the Italian data protection regulator, the Garante, and the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), however, are anxious that neither Facebook nor Ray-Ban examined whether this subtle LED indicator is enough to sufficiently warn those nearby. Concerns also remain that the light can simply be hidden with a small piece of tape.

“The Irish DPC and the Italian Data Protection Regulator, the Garante, are both concerned about the means by which those captured in the videos and photos can receive notice they are being recorded,” the regulator said in a statement.

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“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.”

The Irish DPC has challenged Facebook to confirm the LED indicator is an effective means of protecting the privacy of other users. 

Ireland’s regulator is nominated as the lead investigator for cross-border complaints under GDPR’s one-stop-shop principle for companies headquartered in Ireland, including Facebook and a host of other tech firms. 

The DPC and Garante are also calling on the firm to run a public information campaign to alert the public as to how this product may give rise to the covert recording of their images. 

“From the start, we designed Ray-Ban Stories with privacy in mind, adding numerous built-in features to provide control and peace of mind to both device owners and bystanders,” Facebook said in a blog post marking the launch of these glasses.

“More information on these features, as well as our new guidelines for responsible use, can be found on the Ray-Ban Stories privacy microsite.” 

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