Why Facebook’s connected glasses are a real privacy issue

After Snapchat and its shows, Facebook (Meta) is also venturing into the adventure of connected glasses. He started marketing Ray-Ban Stories in France this Thursday, April 14th. They’ve been available in a few other countries around the world since late last year, allowing 01net.com to try them out for the first time.

As the name suggests, they are manufactured and distributed by Ray-Ban, or rather EssilorLuxottica, the brand’s owner. Rather than inventing an entirely new design, the partners rely on three iconic Ray-Ban visor and sun models. There are many possible combinations depending on the lenses or colors for rather high prices since it starts at 329 euros anyway. I tested the classic dark blue Round version.

Impeccable design and finishes

The integration of the technology and the surfaces are very successful. It was still necessary to put a Bluetooth module, two 5MPix cameras, three microphones and speakers in this product! And it can’t be seen. As a result, the glasses weigh just five grams more than the original unconnected version. We can only observe that the branches are thicker without compromising their aesthetics.

The branches are quite thick, but the frame remains light.

Everything is comfortable and easy to carry. The transport case is also very well thought out, because it allows the glasses to be charged automatically without having to think about it. Fortunately, because the glasses only have 3 to 6 hours of battery life. At the end of the day, you still have to remember to recharge the case.

The case allows you to charge the glasses.

With Ray-Ban Stories you can take photos and videos (up to 60 seconds) and listen to music. The voice call feature based on the Messenger application is not yet available in French.

You must both link your Ray-Ban Stories to your Facebook account and download the dedicated Facebook View application to pair the product with your smartphone.

The FacebookView app.

There are two ways to interact with the glasses. By touching them first. You have to press briefly on the touchpad, located above the frame’s right arm, to start a video and again to stop it. We press longer to take a photo. We sweep the right branch to change the volume.

The touchpad on top of the right temple.

It is also possible to use the voice assistant, which has recently become available in French. The glasses shout out to each other with a “Hey Facebook” or another previously personalized command. Everything works quite smoothly, even if we regularly unintentionally triggered the music by taking off or putting on the glasses.

Image quality is decent

Photos are displayed at 2592 x 1944 pixels and videos at 1184 x 1184 pixels. The quality of the pictures is still quite average. The result is correct outdoors in good light.

Photo taken on the street in full sun.

But once we find ourselves in it, the picture deteriorates.

Self-portrait indoors with good light.

The palette is rather dull with some colors that stand out a bit too brightly, like green. In short, it’s better to use your smartphone to get better photos!

The colors are vibrant.

Learn to frame your eyes

It’s also not easy to separate yourself from your eyes when you don’t have feedback on what you’re doing. Sometimes we found photos crooked because the frame wasn’t straight on our nose.

Unframed photo.

The worst thing is the hair that hides the lens without us noticing, tracing like stripes from top to bottom in the photos, as we can see below.

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It’s not possible to zoom and the angle obtained at eye level isn’t necessarily the best for capturing something on the fly. After all, we don’t spontaneously think of standing still and positioning ourselves well in front of the object we want to photograph.

So of course the hands-free mode is interesting in certain situations, as is the case with a GoPro-type on-board camera. It’s convenient and fun to capture moments when you’re playing football, riding a bike, running or cooking without having to stop to draw your smartphone. But even if the stability is relatively good, we will find that when we move, the videos move according to the vibrations of the head. Here, too, the result is not entirely satisfactory.

An LED and lenses are not visible enough

But the most problematic aspect of these Ray-Ban stories is privacy. Meta has created a code of conduct in which it recommends its users to respect the choice of people who do not want to be filmed or photographed and not to shoot in private locations.

He also took some safety precautions. It is not possible to create live videos on social networks with the glasses or upload photos directly from the glasses. Finally, when taking a photo or video, a white LED lights up to warn those around you.

The light signal can be masked.

The problem is that this light signal is very small and barely visible from the outside, especially in direct sunlight. In addition, the photo sensors are also extremely discreet. For comparison, the ones in the Snapchat glasses were much more imposing and identifiable.

With glasses, you can take photos and videos with the touch of a finger.

We started videos on public transport, in supermarkets, on the street or on café terraces. Everywhere we went no one seemed to notice we were filming. However, if it is not possible to reduce the intensity of the LED, it is possible to blank it. There are also audible notifications, but these are for the eyeglass wearer and you only hear them when you’re very close.

The Ray-Ban Stories glasses can therefore be used as a spy tool by a malicious person. Without going that far, the knowledge that anyone can potentially photograph and film unnoticed and keep those images indefinitely is still pretty damn intrusive and scary.

Surely no one expects people who wear glasses to be able to film you anymore. Hence Meta’s desire to carry out communication campaigns to inform about this new type of products and learn how to use them. We doubt that’s enough.

Almost ten years after the failure of Google Glass, this kind of connected glasses still faces the same obstacle: privacy protection. In our opinion, the Ray-Ban Stories do not provide sufficient guarantees to protect them.

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