Hey Facebook, What Can You Do?

Raising questions about the new Facebook Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses

background photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

Style and innovation. That’s what the new Facebook and EssilorLuxottica partnership has produced with the launch of the new Ray-Ban Stories this September 9th. As both a conversation designer and tech enthusiast, my mind can’t help but wonder: is this really innovation? And more importantly, what are the ethical implications of a barely-visible camera? How will privacy practices be enforced?

A quick introduction to the product: Ray-Ban Stories are a $299 pair of smart glasses with 2 in-built 5-megapixel cameras, open-ear micro speakers, and 3 microphones. While advertised as “smart” glasses and a future contender to Snap Spectacles, these Ray-Bans currently have no AR functionality. The true smart functionality is the Facebook Reality Labs magic✨ of “Hey Facebook.” Yes, these glasses are voice-enabled. I personally do not have a pair of Ray-Ban Stories to demo for this article, so I tried my best to scour the internet for early testimonies of the voice command functionality.

“Hey Facebook” supports two main groups of utterances: “Take a picture” and “Take a video” to support the front-facing cameras that allow customers to record and capture a first-person view of their surroundings. It is unclear at the moment whether other queries are supported, given that these glasses can also be used to listen to music or other audible content through the open-ear speakers and take calls. Future collaboration with “Hey Spotify” anybody? It should also be noted that while these wearables will be available for purchase online and in select retail stores across the US, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy and the UK, voice functionality is limited to English only (Sorry, Italy).

Based purely on how the release was promoted, I really question the need for voice command at all. Examples of how the glasses can be used include a lot of outdoor, public scenarios where users may not necessarily feel comfortable saying a 1-line voice command out loud, especially if it can be avoided by pressing the physical “capture” button on the frames. It will be interesting to see if more intents will be supported in the future and if by then, people will feel more comfortable saying the “Hey Facebook” wake word.

screenshot of the Capture LED light from FB’s microsite

In terms of privacy, Facebook is so self-aware of their reputation that they’ve created an entire microsite dedicated to Ray-Ban Stories’ privacy practices. The glasses include a “Capture LED” light that automatically turns on as soon as the cameras start recording, as a way to let people near you know that you’ve started recording. Unfortunately, several testimonies have pointed out that this indicator is easy to miss and nearly impossible to see in bright daylight. It’s easy to see how this kind of technology can be misused to record other people without their consent, which begs the question: will any of the data uploaded to Facebook View app undergo content moderation?

photo courtesy of IAN HAMILTON on Upload

An inside look at the app reveals that upon signing in to their Facebook account, users are greeted by a “best practices” quick-start guide on how the glasses should be used responsibly. The point that stood out to me was the “Don’t capture while driving.” Again, given that this product is giving users the ability to record and capture photos in a first-person view, it may be a real temptation for drivers to use this product while driving, particularly because of the hands-free feature. I’d be curious to see if this is something that can be enforced or if it even needs enforcing at all. Would this be a problem that can be solved with edge computer vision software: being able to recognize when the camera staring from behind the wheel?

A quick note about voice data. Similar to how it’s done with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, users will have full control over their voice transcripts. The choice to review and delete their voice history is located within the Facebook View app.

I do have more questions than data right now, but regardless, I’m very excited for this space. The release of the Ray-Ban Stories is a win for wearables. It’s a way for more people to get introduced to the possibilities of cutting-edge technology like voice while also staying the realm of the familiar (everyone knows sunglasses). Hopefully this also gives us a chance to explore the ethical considerations of this kind of technology as cameras get smaller and content ownership becomes more blurry.