Facebook’s new screen-toting smart speaker, the Portal, went on sale this week, but given the various controversies around the social network this year, it’s no surprise that the device is generating a fair degree of cynicism. Facebook clearly realises that: it made a new announcement yesterday to “provide more details” on how privacy and ads work on the device.
“Facebook does not listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. This means nothing you say on a Portal video call is accessed by Facebook or used for advertising,” is one of the promises. “Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t identify who you are,” is another.
However, data from how Portal owners use the main Facebook and Messenger services will be processed and used to inform ads, just as it is on smartphones and computers, while ‘device usage’ information from video calls is processed, like frequency and length of calls. “For example, if you make lots of video calls, you might see some ads related to video calling. This information does not include the contents of your Portal video calls.”
Early reviews make it clear how privacy could be a milestone for the device. “A boatload of privacy questions,” said TechCrunch, admittedly while noting that Facebook “has gone out of its way to ensure users that it’s not using the device as a portal into your own privacy”. The Verge is less convinced. “I remain deeply uncomfortable with the idea of a Facebook-connected camera in my home,” wrote its reviewer Dan Siefert. “Facebook is saying all the right things about privacy, but I’m not sure that will be enough to convince the skeptics.”