Snapchat Spectacles: Glasses with a camera function?

For years now, Snapchat has been one of the biggest and most popular messenger apps on the market. The application, which allows users to send disappearing photos and short videos, has now taken things to the next level with the release of Snapchat Spectacles. These are glasses equipped with a camera, allowing users to record short videos and publish them on Snapchat. Released last year in the US, the glasses were a raging success and have now begun to migrate across the Atlantic to Europe. However, the glasses do raise some important questions, not least of all to do with individual privacy and data protection.

What are Snapchat glasses made for?

With these glasses, Snap Inc., the company that is behind Snapchat, wishes to add to the appeal of their messenger app. The spectacles allow users to capture their experiences from the first person perspective and share them with other Snapchat users. The whole concept behind the sunglasses is that they are designed to be used with Snapchat – anyone looking to use the recording function of the spectacles needs to have a smartphone with the Snapchat app installed. The target group is undoubtedly teenagers or young adults, something which is made very clear in the Snapchat Spectacles advertisement:

The spectacles allow you to capture 10-second videos (including sound) that can be started with one press of the button on the side of the glasses. If you press the button two or three times in a row then the corresponding number of clips will be recorded. As soon as recording has begun, LEDs around the camera light up. Above all this is to inform those in shot that a video is currently being recorded.

What is noteworthy about the recordings is that the viewing angle of the camera is 115 degrees. This makes for a very special feature within the Snapchat app: while viewing, if you rotate your phone, the recorded shot will also move accordingly.

The synchronization between the Snapchat Spectacles and app occurs wirelessly: the recordings are transferred to the app either via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.  The app also allows you to export videos and publish outside of Snapchat, e.g., via YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter). Here the clips also have a wide format – similar to a fish eye view – and are surrounded by a large white frame.

The battery is integrated into the frame of the glasses and can be charged using the accompanying case. Further detailed information on the Snapchat glasses can be found in this video from the Android device and software specialists Androidpit:

Where can I buy the Snapchat Spectacles?

The easiest way to order the sunglasses is on the Spectacles website. They are available in three different colors (Black, Coral, and Teal) and cost $129.99.

It is also possible to purchase them at so-called Snapbots. These are yellow vending machines which are placed in specific locations for a limited period of time. In the US the rush to use one of these was very big, as is demonstrated by this video from Snap Inc.

You can find out exactly where these Snapbots are standing on the Spectacles website. At the moment there are a lot more in the US than in Europe.

Snapchat glasses: privacy and data protection

In many ways, the spectacles are just a hipper version of Google Glass, although obviously with much fewer functions. But that being said, Snapchat Spectacles still have a camera with which you can film other people and whose image will then end up on the app provider’s server. And this is exactly what was sharply criticized about Google Glass.

This has led to there being some criticism also leveled at the Snapchat sunglasses and its impact on individuals’ privacy. Snap Inc. themselves have actually addressed the issue on their website stating “Our Community Guidelines have always said to be thoughtful and respect people’s privacy, and these ideals apply equally when you’re using Spectacles. Please be respectful and considerate of others.” While the LED lights around the camera light up to indicate that the camera is recording, there are many that say that this is not enough, as other people still may not have a choice whether they wish to be filmed or not.

A poll carried out by YouGov in September 2016 found that 47% of people (55% of women and 39% of men) said that they would feel uncomfortable around a stranger wearing Snapchat Spectacles, while over 35% (40% of women and 31% of men) would be uncomfortable around a friend wearing them. This gives us an idea of what the public perception of these glasses is. While the growing popularity of the sunglasses may lead to a normalization of them and wider acceptance, there is no guarantee of this. It remains to be seen what the fate of Snapchat Spectacles will be. Watch this space.