Regulators: Facebook’s Smart Glasses LED Indicator May Be Insufficient

Regulators in Europe have expressed concerns to Facebook that its new Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses have not been well tested in the field and that the light that indicates the glasses are recording may not be sufficient to assure privacy.

Ray-Ban Stories were launched on September 9 and have already gone on sale. The glasses come in a range of styles, which perhaps further makes it difficult to pick them out in a crowd, and feature dual integrated 5-megapixel cameras that are designed to allow the wearer to capture moments from a first-person perspective. The smart glasses can use voice-activated controls to take short videos and capture photos of the wearer’s surroundings. When the glasses are actively recording, a white LED indicator light illuminates as an alert.

But as reported by TechCrunch, both Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) and Italy’s privacy watchdog Garante have voiced concerns that Facebook’s new smart glasses will pose a privacy risk, as the LED indicator light may not be sufficient to alert those around a wearer that the glasses are actively recording.

“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. 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,” the DPC writes in a short letter on its website.

“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 two groups have asked Facebook to confirm and demonstrate that the LED indicator light is effective in its design and have also requested that the company run an information campaign to alert the public to the new technology and let them know that there are now less obvious ways that exist to record photos and videos.

A Facebook representative told TechCrunch that it was aware of the questions that the new technology would bring and agrees that it is important for it to be a part of the conversation surrounding them.

“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,” Facebook says.

Facebook additionally says it alerted the DPC about the glasses ahead of launch, and while the DPC confirms it was aware of the glasses before public sales opened, the group was not consulted on the product’s specific features.

“We were briefed and provided with details on compliance with data protection requirements during the summer but not consulted on the development of the product (design and feature[s] had already been done when they came to us),” Deputy Commissioner of the DPC Graham Doyle told TechCrunch.

“We shared the info with other DPAs and ourselves and the Garante in particular raised concerns with Facebook — to do with the operation and field testing of the glasses.”