Facebook’s slowness may have been intentional; Andrew Bosworth, who runs the company’s Reality Labs, has said multiple times that the company doesn’t want to “surprise” people as it introduces new technologies. This has been in response to Facebook’s move-fast-and-break-things mantra, its questionable data-collection practices, and its cascade of somewhat impotent privacy settings.
But if Facebook doesn’t want to surprise people, it might have built a much more obvious indicator light into its latest product. During a dinner with friends last weekend, Peter wore the Ray-Ban Stories the whole time—and it wasn’t until he pointed out the tiny sensors embedded at the temples that friends noticed. Once they did, though, Facebook’s biggest issue didn’t take long to surface: “So, you’ve been recording the whole time?” one friend asked, only half joking. Similarly, Lauren recorded (then deleted) a conversation with an editor while fumbling with the glasses. The editor never noticed.
Also, while the models we were given to test were sunglasses with tinted lenses, Facebook is offering 20 different configurations with three Ray-Ban frame shapes (Wayfarer, Round, and Meteor), including clear-lensed versions. So while our dark-lensed Ray-Bans were more at home outdoors—in public places, where photographing others without their consent is generally allowed—buyers could choose a pair of glasses that could be worn night and day, indoors and out.
All of which brings up a serious question: How are people not going to use this technology to create sensitive, violent, or otherwise controversial content? We’re not saying people won’t use the glasses to save memories of family reunions or a day at the beach—we’re just saying they also happen to be wearing the best sex-tape camera in the history of the world, one that records without the now-accepted social cue of holding a phone up in front of your face.
The other questions all stem from that presupposition, and are both less rhetorical and much thornier. Are Facebook and Instagram prepared to handle the influx of said content? What happens if the person creating said content is doing so without the express consent of anyone else in the images and clips? And above it all are the questions that arise with any piece of connected hardware coming from Menlo Park: How much of your data does Facebook get when you capture video on these glasses and share it through the stand-alone Facebook View app?
You can turn the glasses off, which cuts power to the camera and microphone. The glasses monitor your battery status, your Facebook login, and your wireless connection; those are the only nonnegotiables. Anything else the glasses and View app can do—sharing how long you spend recording videos, the number of clips and images you’ve captured, using Facebook Assistant for voice control, and storing those transcripts—is an opt-in setting, communicated during the app setup process. Similarly, the company says that anything you capture is encrypted on the glasses. It has even put out a one-sheet outlining its privacy policies for Ray-Ban Stories, and it built what it calls a “privacy microsite” for people visiting Ray-Ban’s website.
As for content moderation, Facebook spokespeople say that the same rules apply for the glasses as they do for any other content creation tool. They point out that using Ray-Ban Stories or Facebook View requires agreeing to abide by Facebook’s Community Standards, which includes a robust subsection devoted to “Objectionable Content”—and that Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger all use “a combination of automated technology, human review, and reporting tools” to identify and remove anything that violates those standards.
To hear Facebook talk about it, it sounds so easy. Maybe too easy.
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