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Why Facebook smart glasses threaten privacy

Imagine if you could find out someone's name, job description, and interests just by looking at them. Thanks to powerful facial recognition technology, built into wearable tech, this could soon be a reality. Facebook is launching a new model of smart glasses, which may be enabled with these features. But how do they work, and why should you be worried?

Paul Black

Paul Black

Mar 09, 2021 · 3 min read

Why Facebook smart glasses threaten privacy

What are Facebook smart glasses?

Facebook is planning another worrying venture into the wearable tech market. After announcing their smartwatch, which will potentially be able to gather your health data, they’re considering a facial recognition feature for their upcoming smart glasses. While facial recognition itself is a pretty controversial issue and raises its own privacy concerns, seeing it in Facebook’s hands is particularly concerning.

The company is still discussing the legal implications of such a feature. Its representatives believe that current laws make it quite challenging to implement this function. However, it's worth taking the time to examine just how a feature like this would work, and why it raises concerns.

Why are these glasses a threat?

In theory, users could recognize people they see through the glasses, thanks to Facebook's photo databases. On the surface, that seems like a fun bit of science-fiction, but it could be a grave violation of people’s privacy and the right to be invisible. Moreover, it will open unprecedented possibilities to stalkers and criminals.

Facebook also doesn’t have the best privacy track record and has experienced massive leaks in the past. In the worst case scenario, your sensitive biometric data might end up in the hands of cybercriminals outside the organization.

And there are risks from both sides of the law. Criminals and hackers can launch targeted attacks using leaked biometric data, while law enforcement officers could use the technology to impinge on civil liberties.

Dangers of facial recognition

So why is facial recognition so controversial? There are a number of reasons:

  • Potential abuse. Facial recognition technology relies on vast amounts of biometric data, stored in large databases. This includes facial and voice information, fingerprints, and even eye-scans. If hackers are able to steal that data, they can use it to commit identity theft or launch other attacks against your friends and associates.
  • Inaccuracy. Facial recognition software can be inaccurate, and is particularly bad at identifying people of color. With some law enforcement agencies already using similar technology in the US and beyond, we've already seen numerous cases in which a facial recognition AI confuses two people from an ethnic minority, leading to the arrest of an innocent citizen.
  • Civil liberties violations. In the hands of an authoritarian government or police force, intrusive surveillance programs can be used against the public, violating their privacy and civil liberties. Concern has already been raised about the use of facial recognition software in China, but the threat is growing across the globe.

Facebook and the future

Facebook’s glasses represent another addition to the ever-expanding Internet-of-Things (IoT). From the Amazon Ring doorbell to Facebook’s forthcoming smartwatch, this ecosystem of smart devices and wearable tech raises huge ethical concerns about data privacy.

For now, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid using these new tools. The less you engage with companies like Facebook, the less data they can gather about you.

However, as these devices become more commonplace, people will naturally want to use them and enjoy the conveniences they offer. If you do want to start using more IoT tech, including the Facebook glasses, we advise that you do your research and try to fully understand what data you’ll be giving up. Your privacy is a heavy price to pay for the latest gadget.