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Will the World Tolerate a Clip-On Camera That Takes Pictures Every 30 Seconds?

June 24, 2013

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A visitor poses for photographers in front of the cooling fans at Facebook Inc.'s data center in northern Sweden. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

It's hard to imagine Sweden's Memoto, a startup that lets people capture the moments of their lives in 30-second intervals, being born anywhere else. The Scandinavian country is known for freedom of speech and relaxed attitudes toward privacy.

Memoto makes a small camera -- about the size of a book of matches -- that clips onto a shirt or jacket lapel. The gadget, embedded with a global-positioning chip, takes a picture every 30 seconds, and organizes them based on when and where they were taken. The company calls the process "lifelogging," allowing a user to capture moments without the awkwardness of pointing and clicking a camera or smartphone.

A normal user would take about 2,000 pictures a day, of which about 50 will be of reasonable quality, Oskar Kalmaru, the startup's co-founder, said in a recent interview. More than 4,000 people have pre-ordered the $279 camera, which Memoto expects to start shipping by the end of the summer, he said.

Given the volume of pictures Memoto will be capturing and storing on its servers, Kalmaru said privacy could become a major concern in places that are more sensitive to it. A person sitting next to a Memoto user at a restaurant or a passerby on the street will have their picture unknowingly taken. While Swedes tend to take a lax approach to Internet privacy, people in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere may not approve, he said.

"Sweden has liberal rights on freedom of speech, and as a photographer, you have extensive rights to document your own life," he said. "If you're at the forefront of technology, you will be pushing the limits of social norms."

Kalmaru said the company is giving users control over the pictures they take. He said Memoto will never use them to target advertising. Because the product was designed to look like a camera, people shouldn't feel as violated, he said.

After raising more than $550,000 through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, Memoto is looking for other investors, including venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, said Kalmaru. Facebook-loving VCs tend to have a cavalier attitude toward privacy that should align well with the Swedes.

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