Oh, Facebook. When you launched your fancy Portal and Portal Plus smart displays-slash-video phones designed to compete with the Amazon Echo Show, your executives promised us all that no data collected through Portal devices would be used to target users with ads on Facebook.
Which turned out not to be true.
ReCode decided to dig a little deeper and it turns out that just because Portal “wouldn’t” gather up data to target users with ads on Facebook doesn’t mean that it “couldn’t.”
ReCode spoke to Rafa Camargo, the product vice president in charge of the Portal product line, who said that the data can in fact technically be used for ad targeting but he didn’t know if it would be.
Other semantic problems include the fact that Facebook was implying that the Portal team didn’t plan to use the data for ad targeting purposes because Portal itself doesn’t run ads. However, the Facebook umbrella covers a whole bunch of social platforms and interfaces, so the data from tracking potentially hundreds of thousands of consumers in their own homes could be exponentially valuable.
Think about it: People are putting a camera and a microphone potentially into intimate spaces — a device that could track every movement, every item of clothing, anything you eat or drink and what television shows you watch or what websites you visit.
Explaining exactly what data Facebook collects and how it will or could be used continues to be a real problem for Facebook and it should be of huge concern to the company’s 2 billion-plus users.
The definition of a portal is “a doorway, gate, or other entrance,” but what exactly is Facebook’s device a portal to, anyway? The device comes in two sizes at $199 and $349 but outside of video calls, which still haven’t become a mainstream application for many users, what is Facebook sending into your home? It will play Facebook Watch, iHeartRadio, and Pandora but there is no web browser to bring you information from the web, and virtually no social platforms that aren’t owned by Facebook.
We’ll all have to make up our own minds about this smart home device. Here’s what a Facebook spokesperson said in an email to Recode:
“Portal voice calling is built in the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices. We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate use of apps, etc., may also feed into the information we use to serve ads.”
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