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Facebook is considering a creepy new feature for its smart glasses

Published Mar 1st, 2021 6:50AM EST
Facebook AR Glasses
Image: Urupong/Adobe

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  • Facebook is considering adding facial recognition support to its augmented reality glasses.
  • The company is looking into the legal and privacy issues around allowing the smart glasses to use facial recognition to identify people in the user’s vicinity.
  • Facebook is expected to launch its AR glasses at some point later this year.

Facebook is developing its augmented reality (AR) glasses that would compete against similar smart glasses from the competition. We saw the latest AR and VR glasses concepts at CES 2021, and some of those products will hit the market soon. Aside from Facebook, many tech companies are readying their own smart glasses technologies, with Apple’s wearables being prominently featured in recent rumors. A leak a few days ago also showed that Samsung is working on various smart glasses of its own.

It’s unclear when Facebook will launch its devices or what they’ll be able to offer users. But a new report sheds light on a creepy feature that Facebook is considering for the product. That’s facial recognition that would allow the AR glasses to recognize faces and display information on the screen about the people in the wearer’s vicinity.

Facial recognition for AR glasses isn’t a new idea. Google Glass developers toyed with such concepts, with Google ultimately banning the development of such apps in 2013. It was a bad idea back then, and it’s just as bad now, given all the technological advances that would allow smart eyewear to provide even better facial recognition support.

Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth told Facebook employees that the company is already evaluating the legal and privacy issues around facial recognition, BuzzFeed News reports.

The exec said nothing had been decided and explained that current state laws might make it impossible for Facebook to offer the feature. Bosworth responded to a question from an employee during a companywide meeting on Thursday. The employee asked whether people would be able to  “mark their faces as unsearchable,” citing the potential for “real-world harm” and “stalkers.”

“Face recognition … might be the thorniest issue, where the benefits are so clear, and the risks are so clear, and we don’t know where to balance those things,” Bosworth said. The exec noted that possible use cases of facial recognition in smart glasses include helping someone recognize the people at a party if they can’t remember their name or have a condition called face blindness. That wouldn’t make the feature any less creepy.

He addressed the matter openly on Twitter after BuzzFeed’s report was published, saying that “we’ve been open about our efforts to build [augmented reality] glasses and are still in the early stages.”

“Face recognition is a hugely controversial topic and for good reason, and I was speaking about was how we are going to have to have a very public discussion about the pros and cons,” he said.

BuzzFeed also notes that Bosworth has been backing strong privacy features in Facebook products. He said on Thursday that he has been discussing facial recognition with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and he was overseeing a privacy review for the smart glasses. In December, he said in an internal memo that Facebook should “differentiate our products on the basis of privacy.”

“We should become the undisputed leaders in providing privacy aware software,” Bosworth wrote at the time.

However, Facebook’s latest actions indicate that it strongly opposes the undisputed leader in providing privacy aware software. Facebook is engaged in a war against Apple over iOS 14 features that would force the company to disclose what data it collects from users and ask for permission to track them. Facebook is desperate to convince users to keep allowing it to track them once the privacy features are enabled. Separately, Facebook is fighting backlash from WhatsApp users over the upcoming WhatsApp privacy policy change that will allow Facebook to collect some personal data from WhatsApp users.

As for facial recognition, Facebook has already developed its own facial technology tech called DeepFace. It’s used to offer tag suggestions and identify people in pictures. These are features available to Facebook users who have the feature enabled. Opting-out of facial recognition is possible.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.