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EU Warns Facebook Over Smart Glasses

Facebook’s lead privacy regulator in Europe has raised concerns about a pair of smart Ray-Ban sunglasses the tech giant is now selling. The glasses include a face-mounted camera that can be used to take pictures and short videos with a verbal cue.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) said on Friday that it has asked the tech giant to demonstrate that an LED indicator light also mounted on the specs — which lights up when the user is taking a video — is an effective way of putting other people on notice that they are being recorded by the wearer.

The first Facebook Ray-Ban-branded specs went on sale earlier this month — looking mostly like a standard pair of sunglasses but containing two 5 MP cameras mounted on the front that enable the user to take video of whatever they’re looking at and upload it to a new Facebook app called View. (The sunglasses also contain in-frame speakers so the user can listen to music and take phone calls.)

Italy’s privacy watchdog, the Garante, already raised concerns about Facebook’s smart glasses — but Ireland has an outsized role as a regulator for the tech giant owing to where the company’s regional base is located.

Facebook announced what it couched as the “next step” on the road to making a pair of augmented reality “smart” glasses a full year ago saying initial specs would not include any AR but announcing a multiyear partnership with luxury eyewear giant Luxottica, as it seemingly planned for a pipeline of increasingly feature-loaded “smart” eyewear.

A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We know people have questions about new technologies and how they work and it’s important to us that we are part of this conversation. We will be working together with our regulatory partners, including the Irish DPC as our lead regulator, to help people understand more about how this new technology works, and the controls they have.”

The specs also include a front-mounted LED light which is supposed to switch on to indicate when a video is being recorded. However European regulators are concerned that what the DPC describes as a “very small” indicator is an inadequate mechanism for alerting people to the risk they are being recorded.

The DPC wrote, “While it is accepted that many devices including smart phones 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. 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.”

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