From Spy Glasses to the Metaverse

Avi Bar-Zeev
OneZero
Published in
8 min readSep 28, 2021

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Facebook shifts the burden of privacy protections to the consumer once again

Facebook might have considered putting the on/off switch in a more visible location, so others nearby could tell if the glasses were set to “Ray” or “Ban” incoming images. This rendering is not overly serious.

It’s easy to criticize Facebook for its consumer “spy glasses,” officially sold as Ray-Ban Stories. It’s harder to know what to do about it, given how they’re racing to build their version of The Metaverse on the same broken ideas.

Facebook attempted to assuage the obvious privacy concerns in this product design by 1) adding a tiny white recording light, 2) requiring overt gestures to record and 3) adding an off switch to prevent recording in sensitive places; e.g., locker rooms, bathrooms, courthouses, movie theaters, bars, casinos, government facilities; and of other people’s children w/o permission

Facebook insists their consumers must follow the prescribed terms of service — which the company must know no one reads — to avoid bad outcomes. It’s somehow your fault if things go wrong. Facebook takes no responsibility for what happens from using their hardware or software.

The recording light is a fairly obvious social hack to make up for a lack of true consent. It follows the convention from our laptop’s webcams, added so we could see if we’d accidentally left the video on (Jeffrey Toobin) or someone has taken remote control of our cameras to spy on us. Unfortunately, to the extent the light on the glasses is visible at all, some people might just think it’s a flash, not a warning.

The light is also defeated with a simple piece of tape. Facebook could have added cheap sensors to detect such tampering. Better yet, they could have cleverly combined the light(s) and the camera(s) together, such that blocking one blocks both. Whichever path they took, pulsing these lights on/off or between distinct colors would have been more visible.

As for the “off” switch, the best place would probably be somewhere visible on the outside of the frames, where others in your vicinity can see it clearly. I doubt they’d ruin the branding like I did above, but still imagine such a switch.

Where did these ideas come from?

Facebook says they consulted five independent privacy groups about their spy glasses during design and development. Alas, all five groups were apparently paid by Facebook, which makes it much…

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Avi Bar-Zeev
OneZero

XR Pioneer (30+ years), started/helped projects at Microsoft (HoloLens), Apple, Amazon, Keyhole (Google Earth), Linden Lab (Second Life), Disney (VR), XR Guild