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Facebook’s smart glasses could be as big as Apple Watch

September 22, 2021, 7:03 PM UTC

When Facebook debuted its latest gadget—so-called smart glasses, designed in collaboration with the eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica—earlier this month, I completely disregarded them. Having observed the past wreckage of Google Glass and Snap Spectacles, my subconscious delivered its verdict instantly: Dead on arrival.

Imagine my surprise then when a friend showed up wearing the face-computer, called “Ray-Ban Stories,” to my wedding this weekend. (Oh yeah, I got married!)

Flaviu Simihaian, CEO of Troy Medicare, a health insurance startup, used the specs to capture moments at the ceremony and reception. I had no idea he was wearing camera-glasses throughout the day—let alone ones designed by a company so dogged with controversy and beset by outcries over privacy infringement as Facebook. “I felt like an undercover spy at your wedding,” Simihaian confided later.

It’s a telling assessment. The glasses’ inherent surreptitiousness is already causing agita. E.U. regulators are questioning Facebook about whether the built-in LED lights, which activate when recording, provide sufficient warning to nearby people that they could be caught on camera. I can attest I didn’t notice the alert-lights at all. (Although, to be fair, I was distracted by my bride.)

Amazingly, the specs looked stylish. Simihaian didn’t reveal the glasses’ true nature until after I unwittingly complimented their design. I thought he was just going for a classic-cool, Buddy Holly-look. They worked—technically, and in the fashion sense.

Since Simihaian spent the day testing the gadget, I asked for his review. He said he “felt a bit awkward when everyone pulled out their phone to take pictures and I was just staring intently at the two of you.” His semi-stealth state made for excellent candid shots, but it also posed a hazard to himself. “Nearly fell on the dock because I didn’t want to look down and ruin the video.”

Unfortunately, the glasses’ battery life—about six hours during moderate use, Facebook advertises—leaves much to be desired. “Sadly, they ran out of battery fairly quickly on the fourth 30-second video of your wedding dance,” Simihaian said. (In retrospect, we should have sat our friend closer to a power outlet…and to the dance floor.)

If the battery is weak, the microphone is surprisingly strong. The audio quality is “pretty good,” Simihaian said, even though it’s a “much more inferior experience” compared to, say, Apple’s AirPods. One drawback, however: “I mistakenly turned it on during the ceremony and the Snacks Daily podcast started playing.” (Side glare.)

The privacy implications of Facebook’s false eyes are real, yet surmountable. Viewing my friend’s videos makes me feel like I’m living in Kathryn Bigelow’s dystopic 1995 film Strange Days, in which people trade in SQUIDs, or memory-recording devices that offer first-person virtual reality experiences. And yet I also find myself—against my better judgment—feeling grateful to have the covert footage of this most special day. 

I suspect the $299 smart glasses will start out as a niche novelty item. As the tech improves—better battery, microphone, and camera—it could become an enticing accessory with a much larger following. It may follow the trajectory of Apple Watch, which got off to a slow start before becoming a smashing success.

That is, if Facebook’s increasingly damaged reputation doesn’t shatter the opportunity. The company is apparently aware of its precarious situation. Other than prompting users to turn on Facebook voice assistant to help control the glasses, the device “doesn’t really push Facebook at all, which is great,” Simihaian noted. (Of course, that self-consciousness may be temporary.)

Facebook’s apparent modesty is bleeding into its marketing campaign too. In Manhattan this morning, I caught an ad on a billboard in Times Square. If the ad mentioned Facebook, I didn’t notice it as bright red graphics—far from the usual Facebook-blue color palette—flashed on-screen. The display played up the Ray-Ban brand name instead.

I would have snapped a photo, but I didn’t feel like taking my phone out of my bag. 

Robert Hackett
@rhhackett
robert.hackett@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Facebook's no-good-very-bad news cycle. Shares of Mark Zuckerberg's social network slid by more than 4% at one point Wednesday, even as the broader market ticked higher. On Wednesday, Facebook cautioned investors that recent changes by Apple to limit targeted ads were bound to "have a greater impact in the third quarter compared to the second quarter," Bloomberg reported. The drop follows what has been a vicious news cycle that has provided an unprecedented look into the social media giant's workings, including its efforts to protect Zuckerberg from a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit and its use of the News Feed to promote positive stories about itself

NatSec concerns hit Zoom-Five9 tie-up. A committee led by the Justice Department has raised fresh national-security concerns about Zoom's ties to China in a review of its proposed $15 billion deal to acquire Five9The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The video conferencing company told The Journal that the regulatory review is "proceeding as expected" and that it anticipates receiving the green light on its deal by the first half of the 2022. 

Reed, Ted and the Netflix Factory. The creations of Roald Dahl may soon be coming to Netflix.  The Reed Hastings-and-Ted Sarandos-led streaming giant is buying the Roald Dahl Story Co. in a deal that will let Netflix create an even bigger wealth of content around children's stories including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. (Netflix and the Roald Dahl Story Co. have been working together for several years.) Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

Math's tough. The data network Pyth recently indicated that Bitcoin had slid to as low as $5,402—well below its actual price of more than $40,000. Well, the slide was because the computers of two companies that report into the network bungled some decimals, which led to the average price of Bitcoin tumbling to its inaccurately low price, according to Bloomberg. Pyth is backed by a handful of the biggest trading shops and exchanges on Wall Street and in crypto, including FTXJump Trading, and Virtu Financial

Robinhood prepares crypto wallets. Finally. In October, Robinhood will begin testing crypto wallets in its app for some customers, before possibly making the feature available to all of its users, the company said Wednesday. The long-awaited feature will allow its users to more easily trade, send, and receive cryptocurrencies. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When it rains. Launched in 2016, Facebook's Marketplace now counts more than 1 billion monthly users, many of whom are able to buy and sell everything from used furniture to outgrown children clothes. But, like other online markets, Facebook's suffers from fraudulent listings, fake accounts, and, in some cases, criminals using it as a way to set up robberies, ProPublica reported in the latest in a string of negative news stories about Facebook. 

From the article:

The social media giant’s shortcomings in overseeing the service have made it easier for fraudsters to perpetrate a litany of scams. Internal Marketplace documents, law enforcement bulletins from multiple countries and media reports describe frauds involving lottery numbers, puppies, apartment rentals, PlayStation 5 and Xbox gaming consoles, work visas, sports betting, loans, outdoor pools, Bitcoin, auto insurance, event tickets, vaccine cards, male enhancement products, miracle beauty creams, vehicle sales, furniture, tools, shipping containers, Brazilian rainforest land and even egg farms, among other enterprises. Scammers target both buyers and sellers, resulting in financial losses, hacked Facebook accounts and stolen personal information.

Since the start of the pandemic, criminals across America have exploited Marketplace to commit armed robberies and, in 13 instances identified by ProPublica, homicide. In one high-profile case, a woman was allegedly murdered by a man who was selling a cheap refrigerator on Marketplace. The alleged killer’s profile remained online with active listings until ProPublica contacted Facebook.

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BEFORE YOU GO

Leakers beware. In an email sent Tuesday evening, Apple CEO Tim Cook warned that the tech giant is working to do "everything in our power to identify those who leaked" information that was reported by The Verge regarding Apple's vaccination policy and its reaction to the Epic Games lawsuit, the news outlet reported Wednesday. "We also know that people who leak confidential information do not belong here," Cook wrote.

The Tuesday evening email was, naturally, leaked to The Verge soon after. 

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