Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, showcased the multitude of new products the social media company plans to roll out over the course of the next year. Staying on-track with its quest to dominate over all in the technology industry, new bot features in Messenger and an updated version of the AI assistant M aim to make Facebook your go-to for all things communication. The common thread among all of Facebook’s newest products, however, was the intensive focus on augmented reality (AR). As Wired claims, “the camera is now the most important thing on your phone. Sharing photos and videos with your friends will continue to be huge, sure. But soon the camera will begin powering new augmented reality experiences inside Facebook. You’ll get games and photo filters, and your surroundings will soon be awash in playful and informational metadata that you can only see by lifting up your handset, opening the Facebook app, and viewing the world through the camera.”
AR and VR (virtual reality) are buzzwords thrown around often in tech, particularly when applied to gaming systems like Playstation. They’ve been in commercial use for a while, but the technologies haven’t really taken off in the way the tech industry had predicted…. yet. Facebook’s latest offerings of products subtly integrate AR and VR into the way we communicate, ranging from the gimmicky VR-centric Facebook Spaces to the already popular Snapchat-esque Frame Store app. However, it’s the way in which Facebook is creating a new kind of usability with AR that could be exciting—or frightening. Similar to Pokemon Go, the 2016 AR smartphone game that sparked a nationwide obsession, Facebook’s new tools will allow users to “place virtual objects into the real world when you view your surroundings through your phone. Leave messages on the fridge for your spouse, or tag businesses with floating notes and tips written on walls. We’ll get AR games that incorporate real-world objects thanks to a technology called “SLAM” (simultaneous localization and mapping) that lays a 3-D grid over the table in front of you, turning it into a gameboard. Also, we’ll get AR art, pieces only viewable through your phone.” While these features might be convenient, it begs the question: how does Facebook intend to use all this new, AR-generated data?
The best guess is simple: Facebook, like many other technology companies, wants to track far more than just your location data. It wants to profit off of your emotional data.
A recent rollback of Internet privacy laws by Republican lawmakers isn’t a great sign, especially when partnered with Facebook’s latest data-gathering techniques. Trump’s signing of a bill that strips the Federal Communications Committee’s online privacy regulation is cause for concern; without regulation, “we're building an internet that senses, thinks, and acts. We're building a world-size robot, and we don't even realize it."
Unless you want to go completely off the grid, it’s unavoidable to have your data tracked by whatever social media platform you use—and even if you did disappear into the ether, there are still surveillance cameras that track and store your facial image in their database. Facebook will continue to serve as a disrupter in the technology industry, and we will adapt. With a lack of foreseeable online privacy regulatory action, these new tools are indicative of the ethical dilemma in technical innovation: we’re creating a more convenient and innovative way to communicate, but at what cost?
Words: Staley Sharples