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Facebook weighs whether to build facial recognition into smart glasses

The social network is expected to release its first pair of smart glasses this year.

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- 02:18
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in September the social network is working on smart glasses.

Screenshot by Queenie Wong/CNET

Facebook is expected to launch its first pair of smart glasses this year, but there's one issue company employees are still discussing: whether to add facial recognition technology to the product.

BuzzFeed News, citing remarks from an internal meeting, reported on Thursday that Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, who oversees the company's augmented and virtual reality efforts, told employees that the company is looking at the legal and privacy issues that come with facial recognition.

A Facebook employee reportedly asked the executive about facial recognition and raised concerns about potential harms such as "stalkers." "Face recognition ... might be the thorniest issue, where the benefits are so clear, and the risks are so clear, and we don't know where to balance those things," Bosworth told the employee, according to BuzzFeed.  

The social network has a poor track record when it comes to protecting user privacy, which might make people wary about purchasing Facebook smart glasses. The company has been trying to repair its image around user privacy especially since the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Last year, Facebook agreed to pay $650 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged it illegally gathered biometric data from its Illinois users to tag photos of people on the social network.

In a series of tweets, Bosworth confirmed he made remarks about facial recognition during an employee meeting. "I specifically said the future product would be fine without it but there were some nice use cases if it could be done in a way the public and regulators were comfortable with," he said in a tweet. Facial recognition, for example, could be used to identity the name of a person you can't remember. He also mentioned a neurological condition known as prosopagnosia in which a person has a hard time recognizing familiar faces. 

"Face recognition is a hugely controversial topic and for good reason and I was speaking about was how we are going to have to have a very public discussion about the pros and cons," Bosworth tweeted.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in September that the company teamed up with EssilorLuxottica, which owns eyewear brands including Ray-Ban, so the new glasses have different designs and styles. The company hasn't provided many details about the upcoming product. 

The Facebook-EssilorLuxottica partnership "will combine Facebook apps and technologies, Luxottica's category leadership and iconic brands, and Essilor's advanced lens technology to help people stay better connected to their friends and family," the companies said in a press release last year.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.