The Privacy Risks of Your Smart Glasses

Smart glasses looking at the world and showing warning signs

The field of augmented reality (AR) is one of the holy grails of the electronics industry. These smart glasses impose graphics on the view in front of you to present you with information from a computer or smart phone. If you like to be on the cutting edge, you no doubt are looking for, or already own, smart glasses. The privacy concerns are not all just for the people you might be snapping pictures of discreetly, though. In fact, these companies may be collecting and using data about you more than you realize.

Smart Glasses on the Near Horizon

Smart GlassesThe potential for extraordinary uses of smart glasses is leading many companies to jump into the market. Some are either available now, or just around the corner. This technology has the potential to radically improve our lives. However, it also poses grave new risks to our privacy.

Google Glass

Google Glass made a big splash several years ago by attempting to bring this technology to customers, but privacy concerns largely made this impractical. This hasn’t stopped Google from continuing to develop this technology. Originally intended for the common consumer, Google Glass is now focused on enterprise uses. These smart glasses enable workers to quickly check inventories, the status of machines, or get updates on progress in real-time. Google hopes as users get used to the technology at work, they will want it at home as well.

Intel’s Vaunt

Intel is the company best known for making the processors that power many of today’s computers. They are ready to step out into the smart glass market with an offering called Vaunt. Intel’s strategy is to do more with less. Rather than a bulky headset and obvious projectors, Intel’s product is almost unremarkable in appearance. Displays are faded unless the user is looking directly at it, and only the user can tell when it is being used.

Microsoft HoloLens

The Microsoft HoloLens has been available to a select group of users for some time. The HoloLens 2, like Google’s glasses, is primarily targeted to businesses. The HoloLens works on a version of Windows and so meshes nicely with the Microsoft ecosystem including Microsoft Office and productivity software.

Magic Leap

For years, smart glass enthusiasts have watched Magic Leap promotional videos with a sense of wonder. At long last, Magic Leap launched for consumers in 2018. The product promises immersive video, imposed directly in your field of view. The applications for this product could be virtually limitless. The company’s secrecy has both stoked interest and kept some from accepting their claims. Only time will tell.

Why Smart Glasses Could Be a Privacy Nightmare

The failure of Google Glass came about largely because people felt it invaded their privacy. The smart glasses could take photos, record video, and capture conversations. If you were in the room with someone wearing Google Glass, you could feel like your every move was being watched and recorded. This led to Google Glass being banned in many bars and restaurants.

It is not just those in front of the camera of smart glasses who can expect a massive invasion of their privacy, though. The users themselves are also vulnerable to having personal information exposed through their smart glasses. The glasses can be with the user at all times and can virtually see whatever the user sees in many cases. This creates a gap in your privacy security.

Smart Glasses and Location Data Concerns

Smartphone with Location Marker IconAdvertisers try to get location data from users. Other forms of information shared online usually focusses on your activities and interests while on the internet. Location data presents data about your life in the real world. Your smart phone already provides a great deal of information about where you go, the shops you frequent, and how you get there. Smart glasses can provide even more. Not only could advertisers learn where you are, but how long you looked at a particular display, or how long you spent reading the headlines on the paper at the newsstand. Your location data becomes even more accurate for targeted ads.

Smart Glasses Are Vulnerable to Hackers

HackerAs with any new technology, it takes time to discover all the ways it may be vulnerable to malicious uses. But if home computers, laptops, and smart phones were a tempting target for hackers, smart glasses are only more so. If hackers can gain control of smart glasses with a camera embedded, they could watch you type in your passwords, pin numbers, and every other security measure we take. The breach in your privacy could cause not only embarrassment, but financial loss.

Even for those smart glasses without cameras, the privacy risk is great. These glasses pass on sensitive notifications to your vision. A hacker gaining control of your device could read notifications from your social media, email, and text messages. Because so much of our connection to friends and work is through the internet, this exposure of your privacy could have devastating consequences.

The Answer Lies in Moving Forward Not Backward

The risks to our privacy from new technologies such as smart glasses could cause us to hesitate on the path ahead. But the advantages smart glasses offer could be tremendous and should not be dismissed if we can avoid it. The answer doesn’t lie with going back to the days without this technology, but in proceeding forward with caution.

One of the best protections you can have for your privacy is a quality VPN. A VPN encrypts your data to and from the VPN server. Your information is then sent from the VPN server on to the website or service and returned to the VPN. Because the data is never addressed directly to you, your anonymity is preserved, and your privacy guarded. When paired with technology such as smart glasses, this can help ensure that even if your security is compromised, your privacy may be protected.

There are new VPN options that you can consider, such as AdGuard VPN. To learn more about the benefits of using a VPN, check out our post on choosing the best VPN for your needs.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.