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Will Snapchat's New Glasses Be the Privacy Disaster Google Glass Was?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 27, 2016 3:59 PM

When Google announced it was no longer supporting Google Glass, the recording, texting, streaming wearable, in January of 2015, we thought we were finally done with creepy, techie eyewear. Our sighs of relief might have come too soon, though.

Barely a year and a half after Google Glass's much celebrated demise, the photo messaging app Snapchat has announced its own set of smart eyewear, called Spectacles, which are camera-equipped sunglasses that can record the wearer's surroundings and immediately upload clips to the app. So, will these Snapglasses raise the same privacy concerns as Google Glass?

A Very Different Set of Eyewear

The short answer is yes, if you're concerned about being recorded by strangers (or anyone), Snapchat's sunglasses are no different than Google Glass.

The long answer is no, Snapchat probably won't raise the same privacy concerns that Glass did.

To understand why, we need to remember what was so invasive about Google Glass in the first place. Google Glass allowed users to take photos and videos, read email, or stream video all from one headset. That raised significant privacy concerns, particularly because Google Glass was often worn all the time, as one would wear regular glasses. That meant that someone wearing Glass on the bus, in a bar, or in locker room could use Glass to take photos or record video without being easily detected.

Just putting on Google Glass in public seemed like a violation of the social contract.

The fact that Glass's early adopters often struggled with socially acceptable uses of the product, earning the name Glassholes, didn't allay concerns about Glass's invasiveness in to non-Glass users' lives.

Why Are Spectacles Different?

Snapglasses (okay, their real name is Spectacles) take a slightly less intrusive approach to electronic eyewear. Like Glass, they are a camera equipped wearable. But unlike Glass, they are incredibly obvious.

Spectacles aren't a small screen placed over an ugly set of glasses, like Glass was. They are comically sized, brightly colored glasses with exaggerated lenses -- the kind of thing that would blend easily into Iris Apfel's wardrobe.

Anyone who sports Spectacles will be as obvious, if not more so, than someone taking a photo or video with a smartphone.

By design, using Spectacles will make a bit of a spectacle.

Will Spectacles Be the Next Selfie Stick?

Spectacles' obviousness definitely reduces the creep factor that was so detrimental to Google Glass. But two other factors play an important role as well. First, since Spectacles are designed for Snapchat, their recording ability is limited to short bursts. The glasses can record up to ten seconds of video and no more. Now, ten seconds is plenty of time to take offensive, incriminating, or otherwise objectionable videos, but it's not exactly the same as a Glass user potentially filming the entirety of an interaction in secret.

The third important, distinguishing factor is the price. When Google Glass came out, early adopters had to shell out $1,500 for a pair, a prohibitive amount that meant the general public couldn't get used to seeing Glass around. Spectacles, by comparison, will cost only a fraction of that: $130. That means public norms about Spectacles' appropriate use will be much more easy to establish, as the relatively low price could make them almost as ubiquitous as the selfie stick.

That's not to say that Spectacles don't raise issues about privacy. They certainly do. They're glasses that film, after all. But those issues are not much different than concerns about smartphones and they are certainly worlds away from the privacy concerns raised by Spectacles recent predecessor, Glass.

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