Sep 10, 2021

Axios Login

Actually, I have more than one pair of new glasses. (See below.)

Today's newsletter is 1,186 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Facebook's eyebrow-raising Ray-Bans

Image: Facebook

Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth says a key goal of the company's new $299 smart glasses is to kick start a societal conversation on the norms around such products. On that front, the company has already succeeded.

State of play: Coverage of the launch of the Ray-Ban Stories focused as much on privacy issues as on the product themselves.

Driving the news: Announced Thursday, Ray-Ban Stories look like the company's signature shades, but include dual cameras, speakers and an array of microphones to allow for taking pictures, recording short videos and playing music or taking phone calls.

Why it matters: Although smartphones can do those things and more, it's clear when you are holding a smartphone. By contrast, Ray-Ban Stories are hard to distinguish from the company's traditional sunglasses.

  • Bosworth said the goal is that bystanders will recognize the glasses are recording thanks to the small white LED that illuminates during recording or the audio command or button press the wearer will use to start recording.
  • From my experiences over the past week, as well as those of others, that is often not the case. I found, particularly in larger group settings, that people had no idea the glasses were capable of taking pictures until I showed them.

Between the lines: Facebook notes that it consulted with a number of privacy and advocacy groups as it developed the product. However, the ones whose names Facebook is disclosing — and who are speaking to the press about their work — are all funded in part by Facebook. And even many of them still have their concerns.

  • Jeremy Greenberg, privacy counsel for the Future of Privacy Forum, said it was good that the glasses signal when they are recording, but cautioned that people at a distance, with low vision or just not paying attention could easily miss the indicators. "Hopefully we don't have folks using these for stalking."
  • Carlos Gutierrez of LGBT Tech: "There is still a huge privacy issue around people using these improperly."

The other side: Facebook did take several steps to preserve privacy that are worth pointing out.

  • The devices don't upload anything automatically to Facebook's cloud, nor can they be used for live streaming. Customers have to transfer their photos and videos to a smartphone app. From there they can save the images and, if they want, share them to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or wherever.
  • There are multiple cues designed to indicate when the device is capturing content, though none are foolproof.

My thought bubble: Bosworth is right — it's time to have a discussion on where such devices are appropriate and what standards should apply to the people that make the products as well as those who use them.

  • That conversation started with Google Glass, including a sharp initial backlash. But the issue fell off the radar because the products didn't take off.
2. Review: Ray-Ban Stories are just smart enough

Image: Facebook

Looking just at Ray-Ban Stories as a consumer product, minus the social questions, there is a lot to like, starting with the fact that they look just like regular Ray-Bans.

Between the lines: There are other glasses that are more capable, but Ray-Ban Stories are comfortable, stylish and work with prescription lenses while offering a few useful features. For me, the key selling point is the ability to take pictures without having to take out my phone.

How they work: The new specs take the traditional Ray-Ban design and add in dual five-megapixel cameras, three microphones and speakers to allow for capturing photos and video, listening to music and taking calls from a nearby smartphone.

  • You will need an iPhone or Android device to view the pictures you take as well as supply the audio or phone call you want to take on the device.
  • The glasses' batteries last for six hours of "intermittent" use.

The bottom line: You can take better pictures from your smartphone and experience better sound from a good pair of earbuds.

  • But Ray-Ban Stories let you do those things without losing touch with the world.
3. Microsoft indefinitely postpones office return

After postponing the date several times, Microsoft said Thursday it will no longer predict when employees will be able to return to the office en masse.

Why it matters: Tech companies have been trying to offer return dates to help employees plan for childcare and other concerns, but have repeatedly had to delay things amid the Delta variant.

Microsoft had most recently planned to allow employees to come back Oct. 4, but on Thursday it said it was postponing the return indefinitely.

  • "Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we've decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our U.S. work site in favor of opening U.S. work sites as soon as we're able to do so safely based on public health guidance," corporate VP Jared Spataro said in a blog post.
4. Epic wants "Fortnite" back in Korean App Store

Epic Games says it "intends" to re-release its popular "Fortnite" battle royale game on iPhones and iPads in South Korea, citing the country's new law involving in-app purchases, Axios' Stephen Totilo reports.

Why it matters: Epic's plan, announced on Twitter on Thursday night, would allow it to achieve one of its key goals in its ongoing fight with Apple, at least in one country.

  • "Epic has asked Apple to restore our Fortnite developer account," the company stated in a tweet to the official "Fortnite" account.
  • "Epic intends to re-release Fortnite on iOS in Korea offering both Epic payment and Apple payment side-by-side in compliance with the new Korean law."

Between the lines: Epic's move has been likely since last week, when South Korea passed a law that bars app store owners from prohibiting third-party payment systems.

  • In August 2020, Epic defied Apple's developer policies by allowing "Fortnite" players to purchase in-game items directly from Epic.
  • In-app purchases were supposed to only go through Apple's store, which results in Apple taking a 30% cut.
  • Apple booted "Fortnite" from iOS at the time, and Epic filed suit, leading to a spring 2021 trial, for which a verdict is still pending.
5. Take note

On Tap

  • NLGJA: The Association of LGBT Journalists holds its annual conference online through Sunday. I'll be part of a panel on Saturday talking about newsletters.

Trading Places

  • Apollo Global Management has named Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone as the CEO of Yahoo, per WSJ.
  • Apple has put former Adobe executive Kevin Lynch in charge of its secretive autonomous car project, per Bloomberg, following the departure of Doug Field to Ford.
  • Mozilla has hired Jennifer Taylor Hodges as head of U.S. policy, based in Washington, D.C. She was previously VP of U.S. government affairs for British Telecom.

ICYMI

  • Apple on Thursday fired senior engineering program manager Ashley Gjøvik, who had been openly discussing workplace concerns and has been on administrative leave since last month. (The Verge)
  • Texas joined Florida in enacting a law aimed at preventing social media companies from kicking people off their networks based on their views. A judge has already issued an order blocking the Florida law as likely unconstitutional. (The Verge)
6. After you Login

Technology often takes a while to come to market, and takes a different form than its creators expected. Consider this touchscreen demo from 1985.