Facebook waits to release smart speaker amid data privacy concerns

Facebook delays the launch of its smart speaker until October

You might not be ready to delete your Facebook account, but you also might not want to welcome the company into your home in the form of a smart speaker. In light of the allegations that Cambridge Analytica accessed private data from users without their permission, Facebook decided to delay its release of two smart-home products, Bloomberg reports. Now, we know that the smart speaker will not be unveiled until October — five months later than initially anticipated.

The F8 developer conference in May was supposed to mark the reveal of an Amazon Echo Show-like device with a “laptop-sized touchscreen.” Using its camera and facial recognition technology, the device, rumored to be called Portal, would associate people with their Facebook accounts, according to Cheddar. In addition, Facebook is creating a stand-alone speaker that would cost less that the $499 Portal.

Per a Digitimes report, production for these two devices will not go into production until June, and production volume has been cut by 20 percent when compared to its original plan. Facebook has acknowledged the delays, telling Bloomberg that the speakers aren’t being rushed “to  ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data.”

The two smart speakers are the first from Facebook’s Building 8, a division of the company cloaked in secrecy.  Digitimes and Bloomberg first reported about the devices in July 2017 and news of the expected May unveiling came in January 2018.

Privacy issues aren’t exactly new to Facebook. A cat-less couple starts talking about cat food, and all of a sudden they start getting Purina ads in the newsfeed. Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie said in an interview with the U.K. Parliament the company (and other apps) could possibly use your phone’s microphone to listen in — not to what you’re saying but just to get a sense of the environment. In 2016, Facebook had to release a statement saying it doesn’t use the microphone to inform its ads. “We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio,” according to the statement. “This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates.”

Wired pointed out that it would take a heck of a lot of CPU and battery to constantly listen to you, something you would probably notice. Plus, the artificial intelligence would have to be smart enough to understand nuances; if you say “coke,” are you talking about a beverage, drugs, billionaire brothers, or fuel during the Industrial Revolution? The truth is, Facebook has other ways — like using your browsing history — to deliver targeted ads.

Will Facebook be able to repair trust with its users by the time the Portal finally reaches the market? It’s hard to say. One thing might give you, pause, though: Mark Zuckerberg puts keeps a piece of tape over the camera on his own laptop.

Updated on April 23: Facebook won’t debut its smart speakers until October. 

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