Facebook recently announced its first product in the home speaker category, designed to take on the Google Home and Amazon Echo series. Portal by Facebook is connected to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, but also features Facebook-geared tweaks that make it work better with the popular social media platform. But with any product built by Facebook, the concern quickly shifts to privacy and data security.
According to a report by Recode, Portal devices were earlier claimed to be free of any ad targeting. While the Portal itself doesn’t show ads, Facebook claimed that data collected from the product would not be used to target ads to users on other Facebook-owned platforms, such as the social media service, Instagram or WhatsApp. However, this line seems to have been changed, as Recode has since received an updated statement from Facebook. The Portal could indeed collect data that will be shared with other Facebook-owned properties.
“Portal voice calling is built on 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 usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads,” a spokesperson said in an email to Recode.
The Portal by Facebook is essentially a large screen with a speaker attached, that connects to your home internet and sits at a convenient spot in your home. It’s meant to be used primarily as a video calling device, and being built on the Facebook Messenger platform allows users to use the framework of the company’s popular messaging service to communicate. Facebook has also licensed and included Amazon Alexa for voice-based commands, adding to the functionality.
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However, Facebook is known to collect usage data to effectively target ads to users, and the Portal could therefore be used for this as well. While this data is being collected, the company suggests that it may not necessarily be used for such targeting. But this strategy could change going forward, and placing a Facebook-controlled camera and microphone in your living room sounds particularly scary after Facebook’s ongoing privacy and security woes.