The new Snapchat Spectacles might look like a toy, but connected sunglasses may carry hidden security implications.
Snap Inc. — the company behind the disappearing message app Snapchat — unveiled its newest product, Spectacles, on Thursday. The sunglasses-turned-video-camera lets you capture quick 10-second scenes that immediately get sent to your Snapchat account on your phone (making them public is another step).
With bold, bright colors and blinking lights to indicate recording, the device feels more like a toy than a serious piece of technology, which only adds to the appeal for its user base. Snapchat says its app reaches a whopping 41 percent of all 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States. Now, users of the app can attach internet-enabled cameras to their faces that capture everything in their field of vision.
The problem? The product could make it much easier to record personal information and invade another person’s privacy without them even realizing it.
Spectacles are probably a privacy disaster. No one cares. They look cool.
— ST. (@seyitaylor) September 25, 2016
Granted, Spectacles are built to be fairly obvious — they’re brightly colored and have big cameras on them. They also, like most sunglasses, will generally be worn outside, where an expectation of privacy is not as relevant as, say, a restroom.
Still, noted tech blogger David Papp, users can still wear them in inappropriate situations.
“The possibility does exist that people will use them in inappropriate ways. Embarrassing clips could go viral. If users wear them in public washrooms or capture stealth videos of careless remarks, there is the possibility of abuse,” he wrote.
Some younger millennials and people living outside the Silicon Valley bubble might not remember the rise of “Glassholes,” the annoying people who wore Google’s failed wearables project, Glass, to record every mundane interaction.
Some of the security concerns that plagued Google Glass, including the collection of personal data, are still relevant to Spectacles, even though they can’t continuously record video.
So many pieces on Google Glass were about or at least mentioned privacy concerns. Conversely, Snap’s “Spectacles” coverage is cool; neat!
— Aaron Landry (@s4xton) September 24, 2016
Wearables security expert Matthew Ferrante, CEO of Aurora Security and CSO of Security Optics, told Mashable companies such as Snap offer an easy way to capture video but users don’t think about the metadata — including location, facial and voice recognition data — that is really captured.
“People are just giving their information out,” Ferrante said, in regards to Snapchat. “Can it be abused? Absolutely.”
Another key difference between Spectacles and Glass is the accessibility to a younger demographic.
Glass, at around $1,500, was marketed as a serious tech purchase and therefore the wearable wasn’t snapped up by the Snapchat generation. The $130 Spectacles are much more affordable. The possibility of Spectacles ending up in the hands of millions of young consumers is much more real.
With Spectacles’ low price point also comes a likely compromise in privacy and security, according to Ferrante. He believes users should be willing to spend more on technology to ensure better security of their information. “People are putting their own digital fingerprints out there,” he said.
“People are putting their own digital fingerprints out there.”
Karen Monahan, a spokesperson for Darkness to Light, an organization that works to prevent child sexual abuse but also tracks digital safety, believes another issue for concern is users not realizing how public and permanent their social media content really is.
She told Mashable at first glance the Spectacles “seem risky” due to geo-location tracking data and the high potential for people to be recorded without their knowledge. “Personal choice is not there,” she said. “That’s a concern.”
Spectacles are as risky as any other new technology, though, including the sunglasses’ parent app, Snapchat, Monahan said. Even if you are just using your phone’s camera to record your surroundings, the videos are still connected to your account and identity.
Snap declined to comment to Mashable for this article, but directed users to its community guidelines page.
The privacy page on its site, which includes a section devoted to the new glasses, states that many of the same guidelines for using the Snapchat app on your phone apply for Spectacles.
“Our Community Guidelines have always said to be thoughtful and respect people’s privacy, and these ideals apply equally when you’re using Spectacles,” the privacy page reads. “Please be respectful and considerate of others.”
One thing is certain, Spectacle users don’t want to earn a lovely moniker like Google Glass users had to deal with: So think twice about what you film and don’t be a Spectacle-hole.