Everyone and their mother is supposedly building a pair of smart glasses now, including Facebook. However, a BuzzFeed News report notes that Facebook is apparently thinking of building face recognition in its upcoming pair of AR glasses. No thanks.
In an internal meeting, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality, said that the social media giant was considering whether it had the legal capacity to include face recognition features in AR glasses. According to Buzzfeed, Bosworth said face recognition “can be the most difficult problem, where the benefits are so clear, and the risks are so obvious, and we do not know where to balance things.” His comment was in response to an employee’s question as to whether such technology had the potential for “real harm”, especially persecution. As for potential benefits, Bosworth secretly pointed out looking up an acquaintance’s name if you had forgotten it or had face blindness.
There is a lot to unpack here. First, it is not encouraging that the comments seem to focus on the legality of face recognition being included on these AR-smart glasses, rather than the ethical implications. The infamous incident there was a pair of Google Glass ripped off the face of a woman in a bar triggered a national conversation about the privacy implications of smart glasses – and those did not has face recognition. Face recognition, even if you use it for “benign” reasons, is a much bigger ethical issue.
For example, it is unclear whether anyone will be able to opt out of having their face included in which database Facebook will use to enable this feature. It would be quite disgusting if you walked around outside and unknowingly passed an insect that could then learn your name and potentially access your Facebook profile from a 2-second meeting. Consent should be at the forefront of any face recognition technology, so it’s uncomfortable that BuzzFeed reported that Bosworth was apparently critical of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which requires all companies that collect biometric data to obtain consent before doing so. In January, Facebook was ordered to pay one $ 650 million settlement in a class action lawsuit from Illinois alleging that the company violated BIPA by collecting facial recognition data without consent.
With all this in mind, it is confusing that Facebook will even consider including the technology in a device that already has a history of disturbing people. That said, it is not a given that Facebook will eventually include face recognition in its smart glasses. In a tweet following BuzzFeed’s report, Bosworth acknowledged that face recognition is “a hugely controversial topic” and that the company wants a “very public discussion of pros and cons.” He also emphasized that Facebook’s smart glasses “would be fine without [facial recognition] but there were some nice use cases if it could be done in a way the public and regulators were comfortable with. ”
The last part is the core of the problem here. Face recognition is still a highly debated technology, and there is by no means a societal consensus on how to use it. Earlier this month, Minneapolis banned police from using face recognition technology, and back in November The Los Angeles Police Department did the same. In total, 13 cities Across the United States, local police have banned the use of technology. Several cities, including San Francisco and Boston, has also banned government use of face recognition. And while people and lawmakers miraculously enjoyed the technology before Facebook’s expected launch of these smart glasses later this year, Facebook of all companies does not have the biggest record for privacy.
Simply put, society hardly warms up to the idea of putting extremely simple smart glasses on their faces – let alone a pair with face recognition. Devices like these have failed before, and will probably fail again, because no companies so far have convinced consumers that this is a gadget they absolutely need. If Facebook wants to do this the right way, it will release a pair of smart glasses that solve consumers’ problems – not a pair that immediately hits a whole barrel of worms.