Privacy Central

The Future of Smart Glasses: Do We Need To Be Concerned About Privacy?
Privacy10 Nov 2017 4 mins read

The Future of Smart Glasses: Do We Need To Be Concerned About Privacy?

Smart glasses are once again making headlines with Snap's apparently failed $40 million gamble on its Spectacles. There's a few reasons why smart glasses continue to struggle, we take a look at one of them: privacy.

Becca Caddy
Becca CaddyTech Journalist

Over the past year, analysts and industry experts have predicted that smart glasses could be the fastest growing sector of the consumer wearables space.

But for many that’s hard to conceive. After all, Google’s Glass eyewear famously made it nowhere despite a lot of hype. And more recently, Snap’s Spectacles, which were once tipped to be game-changing, were revealed to have lost the company nearly $40 million.

There are many reasons why smart glasses haven’t made it big yet, from cost concerns through to practicality issues. But one of the biggest hurdles – and one of the reasons they’re bound to raise ongoing concerns – is privacy.

For brands both big and small looking to now enter the smart glasses space, it’s important to understand why privacy is such a hot topic and, crucially, what needs to be done in order to make users feel safe.

What does the smart glasses space look like?

The term ‘smart glasses’ is used to refer to a number of devices, which are similar but have different features.

For example, Snap’s Spectacles were tipped to evolve over time but are essentially a camera on your face, allowing users to create photo and video content on-the-fly.

In comparison, Google Glass had the same photo-taking abilities, but it was also focused on serving up notifications on-the-move and had built-in head-tracking technology too.

Now Google Glass is no more, similar brands have cropped up that promise the same kind of functionality, like the Vuzix Blade 3000 that projects content and notification on the right lens, has a built-in voice assistant and allows users to take photos too.

But although some companies are hoping to push their smart glasses mainstream, there are a number of specific sectors where the devices might have a bigger appeal. One space is fitness where devices like Solos, which track your cycling activity and display it on the screen in front of you, and fitness tracking specs from Everysight are appealing to early adopting athletes.

Smart glasses may well get their big break not with consumers but with business and elite sport.

Similarly, there are also devices created with business in mind, like the Vuzix M300 that have a range of commercial applications, such as logistics and manufacturing.

But the biggest topic when it comes to the future of smart glasses is which company will successfully add AR tech to a sleek spectacle-like form factor. A recent report from Bloomberg claims Apple will have a well-design AR headset hitting the market by 2019, which will effectively overlay reality with virtual, augmented elements and data. This kind of tech could have huge implications on everything from entertainment to communication to advertising.

What are the privacy concerns of smart glasses?

Many analysts have cited price, bulky build and low consumer interest as just a few of the reasons why smart glasses haven’t taken off already. But you don’t need to be well-versed in the latest tech offerings to understand why privacy might be top of the list of problems.

For starters, the always-on nature of many of the smart glasses currently on the market raises issues for the general public around loss of control of their image and privacy generally.

For example, when Snap Spectacles were first launched many concerns were raised about the privacy of the public with Snap answering criticisms by stating: “We’ve designed Spectacles so that every time you take a Snap, a ring of LEDs will light up to let those around you know you’re recording.”

And it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not just individuals that would be affected. Although some businesses could profit from smart glasses in a myriad of ways, others risk having their customers and practices exposed on an unprecedented level.

Furthermore, augmented and mixed reality tech raises a number of concerns in and of itself. For example, advertising has to abide by certain standards online and will need to be policed in the same way in mixed reality too so that ads don’t ruin experiences, pop up unexpectedly or deceive people.

But as you’d expect, one of the biggest concerns when it comes to smart glasses is around collecting data about users’ habits and experiences.

A major concern about smart glasses relates to data collection of users’ habits and experiences

Luckily the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force next year in Europe, and will therefore apply to the UK at least until Brexit, but both hardware and software companies big and small will need to ensure they scrub up on what that means. For example, companies could be collecting a whole range of information, like shopping habits and hobbies, as well as biometric data, like how your eye movements or heart rate changes throughout the day and using that in ways users aren’t aware of.

Conclusion

Although many predict that smart glasses with the tech and design necessary to go mainstream might not be with us for another few years, privacy concerns need to be addressed, and fast.

It’s difficult to come up with solutions to some of the most pertinent privacy issues, but transparency every step of the way, security settings built into devices, diverse teams creating experiences, lots of consumer awareness campaigns and, crucially, gaining consent are all a good place for brands both big and small to start.