Why you don’t need to worry about Facebook’s Project Aria
There’s been a lot of hype (and concern) around Facebook’s new Project Aria — and with good reason. The company hasn’t handled privacy particularly well in the past.
Project Aria is a new augmented reality (AR) endeavour announced by Facebook last week. Facebook has developed a set of AR glasses, that record everything. Video, sound, location, and they even track the user’s eye movements. The project is aimed at mapping the world in 3D. And not just streets, or public spaces. Users will wear the glasses at home too.
The challenge with today’s AR is that our current devices lack the processing power to properly scan and render an environment in real time. Even though we have some decent AR solutions available right now, that lack of power to map the complex, and ever changing environments around us is one aspect holding us back from a great AR solution.
Once we’re past that, AR can start to become incredibly useful. An AR app that help find things like your car keys would be just one example, pinpointing their exact location relative to other objects. Instead of your device needing to interpret all the objects in your home in real time, the software could use the existing home objects from Facebook’s database. Using those prefab objects, the AR device can achieve the same goal, while processing a much more manageable amount of information — AR apps will be faster, and require less computing power.
Sounds a interesting, and a little terrifying, too.
Facebook has a lot of data, on just about everyone. And, the past decade hasn’t bode well for the company with regards to how they protect and use that data. It’s no wonder that Project Aria has raised a few red flags.
You’re right to be cautious. But could Facebook’s intentions actually be pure this time?
Maybe. So far, the glasses will only be available to a select number of employees, and a handful of external contractors. It doesn’t seem Facebook has any plans to make the headset available to the general public either.
No, you won’t have to worry about your neighbour wearing a headset and sending overheard private conversations from the backyard. And there won’t be face detection technology sitting atop the head of every joe walking down the street.
Provided it stays that way, the project has the potential to propel AR forward significantly. That type of progress is usually a good thing, but it comes with its own challenges too.
Assume that AR technology continues to improve, which it most certainly will, regardless of Facebook’s involvement. What then? Isn’t a headset available to everyone the obvious next step? At what point will AR finally move from your smartphone to something more integrated? Glasses? Your car’s windshield?
How available Facebook decides to make their AR dataset will influence those answers. Will the objects and data be open source, available for anyone to use and build on? Or, will Facebook keep it for themselves, widening their moat, and ultimately, calling many of the shots on the AR forefront, from compatible technology to new legislation.
AR has the potential to be an incredible tool, but we need to help steer the industry in a direction that puts a high value on privacy, and a higher price on abusing it.