Why Facebook is using Ray-Ban to stake a claim on our faces

Facebook’s View app “promises to be a safe space,” according to one review, but uploading data through the View app to other Facebook apps makes it unclear which privacy policies apply and how content the glasses record could ultimately be used. People using Ray-Ban Stories may also be subjected to additional surveillance. The View app states that a wearer’s voice commands could be recorded and shared with Facebook to “improve and personalize [the wearer’s] experience.” The user must opt out to avoid this.

When some (but not all) of the people we interact with are cloaked in Ray-Ban Stories, we may not be able to fully cooperate with each other. We may not want to be recorded. Or if we don’t own Facebook’s glasses, or aren’t on Facebook, we may not be able to participate in social activities in the same way as those with Ray-Ban Stories.

To date, Facebook hasn’t had a portable consumer hardware device in the market that works with a mobile phone and back-end software, and it’s clear the company is new at this. It lists only five “responsibility” rules for people who purchase the glasses. Believing that people will actually comply with these rules is either naïve or very optimistic.

These glasses are Facebook’s first step toward building a complete hardware ecosystem for the company’s coming attempts at creating the metaverse. With Ray-Ban Stories, it has gained new capabilities to collect data about people’s behavior, location, and content—even if the company doesn’t use that information yet—as it works toward loftier goals.

While Facebook conducts an enormous beta test in our public spaces, concerned people will be even more on guard in public and may even take evasive measures, such as wearing hats or glasses, or turning away from anyone wearing Ray-Bans. If Facebook adds facial recognition to these glasses in the future, as the company is reportedly considering, people will have to find new countermeasures. This robs us of our peace.

Ray-Ban Stories are now for sale in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Italy, and Australia. How people use and respond to the device will vary wildly across countries that have different social norms, values, laws, and expectations of privacy. Facebook may be one of the first companies to attempt to deploy smart camera glasses, but it will not be the last. Many other versions will follow, and we’ll need to look out not just for Ray-Bans, but for all types of devices recording us in more subtle ways. 

Now go out and get yourself some big black frames,
With the glass so dark they won’t even know your name,
And the choice is up to you cause they come in two classes,
Rhinestone shades or cheap sunglasses.

—ZZ Top 

S.A. Applin is an anthropologist and senior consultant whose research explores the domains of human agency, algorithms, AI, and automation in the context of social systems and sociability. You can find more at @anthropunk, sally.com, and PoSR.org.

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