CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet

Are we finally ready for smart glasses?

September 10, 2021, 8:45 PM UTC

Facebook is wading into the world of wearables—in frightening fashion for some.

On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant revealed its own camera-enabled smart glasses, joining the ranks of tech giants Snap and Google in trying to popularize computerized specs.

Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories stand out from Silicon Valley’s earlier attempts to bring computers to your face. The iconic Wayfarer design that has been donned by Hollywood elites for decades very much remains intact. (The glasses do come in more than a dozen other styles, too.) And with two tiny cameras in the top corners of the glasses’ frames and integrated open-ear speakers, Ray-Ban Stories are being billed as a way of lifting peoples’ eyes away from their phone screens while still giving them the ability to immortalize a moment in time.

“I don’t think we inherently want to go through our lives carrying a phone around in our pocket. We do it because it creates a lot of value for us,” Zuckerberg told Fast Company.

Whether consumers follow Facebook’s push is still foggy, though.

Smart glasses have remained an enigma for years now. Tech visionaries may see them as potentially opening up a new realm of opportunities around virtual reality and augmented reality (cough, metaverse, cough). But Silicon Valley’s past attempts have often been met with skepticism and concern. Google Glass was famously banned from a bar in Seattle that was concerned about people recording others. The West Virginia legislature even debated a ban on the devices while driving. Snap, meanwhile, has recently pivoted to marketing its Spectacles product to developers and creators, rather than consumers.

Considering Ray-Ban Stories are designed to look like any other pair of sunglasses, privacy concerns have already bubbled up. “It’s a bit problematic that you might be recorded by anyone anywhere you go,” Tiffany Li, a fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project, told Fortune. “And that raises a lot of scary implications.”

Facebook, which worked with privacy experts on the devices’ development, has tried to get out ahead of such criticisms. Videos recorded on the glasses, for one, are capped at 30 seconds. Facebook is not storing the content recorded on its servers or cloud, either. But questions still remain about whether the device does enough to alert others when a user’s face camera is live. Ray-Ban Stories include an LED light next to the camera that illuminates when the device is in use. But, as BuzzFeed News’ Katie Notopoulos documented Thursday, it can easily be covered up with a piece of tape and a black marker. (Facebook has said covering the camera is a violation of the glasses’ terms of service.)

Then there is the matter of whether consumers actually want such a product. Especially one that retails for $299. For wearables to achieve mass appeal, Ranjit Atwal, a research director for Gartner’s quantitative innovation team, told Fortune they need to bring something new to the equation that enhances “the convenience of users.”

In the case of Ray-Ban Stories, the allure—for now—seems to be the ability to seamlessly take photos and videos (albeit at not as great a quality as say your iPhone). But Ray-Ban Stories could end up being the opening for Zuckerberg to bring his vision for the metaverse to consumers, too.

Until then, as Li told Fortune: “Cameras on your face is all we’re getting right now.”

Declan Harty
@declanharty
declan.harty@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Epic prevails. A federal judge has determined that Apple cannot force developers on its App Store, such as Fortnite creator Epic Games, to use its in-app purchasing system, which has charged commissions as high as 30% on some sales, nor prevent them from contacting customers whose information was obtained when they signed up in the app. The ruling comes following a three-week-long trial, but did not go as far as Epic may have hoped. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California declined to rule that Apple is an antitrust monopoly.  

Texas targets big tech. New legislation signed into law Thursday by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bars social media companies with more than 50 million monthly active users (see FacebookTwitter, and Google's YouTube) from restricting access to their platforms for people based on their viewpoints. The law, whose purpose bears a resemblance to a similar effort in Florida that a federal judge struck down in June, sets the stage for an expected court challenge between the state and Silicon Valley, The Washington Post reported.  

JPMorgan dips into the restaurant business. The nation's biggest bank has struck a deal to acquire the Infatuation, the company that bought Zagat from Alphabet's Google back in 2018. The Jamie Dimon-led lender has been branching out to appeal to consumers who like to spend big money when traveling and dining, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Last year, JPMorgan, for example, launched a program for certain credit card holders that will allow them access to certain perks like reservations at popular restaurants.  

Tinder CEO heads to Yahoo. Following its acquisition of Yahoo, private equity giant Apollo Global Management has tapped Jim Lanzone, the CEO of Tinder, as the digital media company's newest chief executive, according to a report from The Wall Street JournalGuru Gowrappan, the head of Yahoo since 2018, will move to a senior adviser position for Apollo's private equity business. 

Verified bots. On Thursday, Twitter began rolling out a feature that will allow so-called "good bots" that automated sharing everything from vaccine appointment information to disaster warning systems as such on their profiles. The "Automated Account" label will appear under the profile name and handle, according to Twitter, which has been toying with the idea of doing so for years now. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Is crypto a... cult? Digital assets are booming: Investors on Main Street and Wall Street are finally diving in, prices keep rising, and regulatory clarity is beginning to emerge on the horizon—though some say not soon enough. But, for many, the cryptocurrency world has devolved into an environment filled with no tolerance for dissenters, doubters, or skeptics—one that is beginning to bear some of the characteristics of a cult of diehards, according to the Financial Times.  

From the article:

The definition of a cult isn't cut and dry. Scholars, civil society groups and anti-cult counsellors offer varying and at times contradictory criteria, and the line between cult activity and mainstream religion can be vanishingly thin. 

Most groups identified as cults feature a single charismatic leader, something that the crypto world lacks. But many other classic hallmarks of cult hood—apocalypticism, the promise of utopia for worthy believers, shunning of external critics and vitriolic denouncement of heretical insiders—are increasingly dominant.

"Crypto is essentially an economic cult that taps into very base human instincts of fear, green and tribalism, combined with economic illiteracy as a means to recruit more greater fools to pile money into what looks like a weird, novel digital variant of a pyramid scheme," argues Stephen Diehl, a crypto-sceptic software engineer. "Although, it's all very strange because it's truly difficult to see where the self-aware scales, true believers and performance art begin and end. Crypto is a bizarre synthesis of all three."

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Crypto prepares for war with the SEC by Robert Hackett and Declan Harty

Intel CEO says 'big, honking' fab' planned for Europe will be world's most advanced by Christiaan Hetzner

What Andreessen Horowitz's recent hiring surge says about the venture capital investor by Lucinda Shen

Stocks and futures rebound, crypto flat as the markets head for a down week by Bernhard Warner

Is now a good time to add bonds to your portfolio? by Jessica Mathews

Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.

BEFORE YOU GO

Two decades later. Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

So, to end our week, I wanted to share just a few of the stunning stories that have come out as of late in observance of the anniversary. They include The Atlantic's latest cover story on the lasting grief for Bobby McIlvaine's family, my colleague Megan Leonhardt's writing on how the world of finance has changed since the attacks, and a tribute published Thursday by Bloomberg on how a class of finance professionals are following their parents' footsteps on Wall Street 20 years after they died on 9/11. 

Our mission to make business better is fueled by readers like you. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.