A Privacy Spectacle?

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Photo by Blogtrepreneur // howtostartablogonline.net/socialmedia

On February 20, Spectacles by Snapchat became available for sale online in the US. Snapchat (now Snap, Inc.) was first launched in 2011 primarily as a messaging app, but now has a wide variety of publicly available content and advertising, in addition to messaging. With over 150 million active daily users, Snapchat is a growing contender in the social media and advertising markets, with a projected $1 billion in revenue for 2017.

Spectacles will no doubt contribute a fair share to that revenue estimate. With Spectacles, users can now automatically import short video recordings, or Snaps, to their Snapchat feed by pairing their Spectacles to a mobile device with the Snapchat app downloaded. This expansion into IoT-enabled hardware adds potential sources of revenue as users increasingly use the app, and therefore view more ads. Interestingly, Snapchat filed a patent, published last summer, for an application of a system capable of object recognition with photo filters. While the exact use of the technology outlined by the patent has not been released, there is some speculation that it would enable Snapchat to increase revenue by generating ads based on photos and videos taken by users. The patent outlines several ways it could accomplish this: by associating the object in the photo with a merchant’s discount for a similar object, and by creating an automated bid process for competing merchants who want to show ads to users who take photos of particular objects. If a user created a Snap with a cup of coffee, Snapchat could then have two local coffee shop merchants automatically bid to show ads to the user, and the user would see a corresponding ad offering a coupon on their next purchase.

Between Spectacles and the latest Snapchat patent, the potential privacy pitfalls are numerous. While Spectacles have indicator lights to show people around the user that a Snap is being recorded, it’s probable that Spectacles will run into some of the same privacy concerns that Google Glass did. Additionally, it’s not clear exactly how (or even if) Snapchat will use user-supplied images to trigger advertising. Users may wish to opt-out of that sort of targeted advertising altogether, particularly since Snapchat uses geolocation information for many of its features. With advertisers using increasingly targeted advertising methods, there is also the risk of price discrimination, with each user potentially paying a different price for the same item, based on carefully calibrated metrics using data collected and used by merchants and advertisers through the app.

Early indications show that Snapchat Spectacles will likely be a success, but we can only hope they don’t turn into a privacy spectacle.