Last week’s Sunday Times contained a full page ad on page 6.
Titled ‘Your Guide to Smart Glasses’, the ad from Meta (aka Facebook) and Essilorluxottica (Ray-Ban’s parent company) explained that smart glasses (such as the Ray-Ban Stories devices that will soon be launched by Facebook Meta) are not recording you as you go about your business.. unless the small LED light in the top corner of the frames is illuminated.
When Google launched their smart glasses a number of years ago, there was a public outcry about the devices invading the privacy of anyone who came within a few feet of the glasses wearer.
This ad is trying to get ahead of a similar outcry arising in the future by educating people. It looks like the product developers believe the public outcry was due to a lack of education, rather than any rational concern.
Personally, while I accept that it is inevitable that such devices will become popular over the coming years, I’m not particularly comfortable with them.
I know people can record us with their smartphones, but that is very obvious and requires a bit of effort. These newer devices allow for a more covert type of recording.
In the not-too-distant future, a voice in my head will be telling me:
“Anyone wearing glasses could be wearing smart glasses.
And anyone wearing smart glasses could be recording me.”
I don’t think I’m the only one with a voice in my head. Although maybe I’m the only one with a voice that gets annoyed about invasions of my privacy!
Putting aside my own discomfort, there is the question of our right to, or expectations of, privacy.
Rights and expectations are different things.
Right to privacy: We may expect a right to privacy wherever we go, but our legal rights* are limited when we are in a public space. And a public space may include the local coffee shop. However, our rights change if we go somewhere less public – For example, the toilets of that same coffee shop. Will the people who use these devices understand the difference?
Data protection*: Legal issues may also arise if someone records certain public events and then shares the recording. This is not unique to smart glasses.
- For example, if someone is recording a religious service and the recording captures the faces of those attending the service, that recording may now contain what GDPR calls ‘special category data’ (in this case, religious beliefs).
- However, it could also be argued that the service took place in public (e.g. the local church), and so every attendee was publicly proclaiming their religious beliefs. Therefore, it’s no longer ‘special category data’.
- In any case, a smart glasses wearer (or smartphone user) needs to be mindful of the potential legal implications before they publish or share such a recording.
Perception of privacy: Putting aside the legal rights and legal implications, there is also the thorny issue of our perception of privacy. Few people (including myself) know the specific legal rights but we all have perceptions about what’s right and wrong. Unfortunately, we don’t have an agreed single line that divides what is appropriate and what is intrusive.
The wearer vs the worn-out
It seems inevitable that the arrival of these devices will once again cause a few standoffs between those of us who will wear them and those of us who will be worn out trying to go about our business without feeling like we are under surveillance at every turn.
Disclaimer: I am not a legal eagle – These are personal opinions. Seek qualified legal advice.