Facebook announced Portal last week, its take on the in-home, voice-activated speaker to rival competitors from Amazon, Google and Apple.
The biggest question surrounding the device: Why should anyone trust Facebook enough to put Facebook-powered microphones and video cameras in their living room or kitchen? Given Facebook’s year of privacy and security issues, privacy around the device — including what data Facebook collects and how it’s used — has been an important part of the story surrounding Portal.
That’s why we need to update our reporting.
Last Monday, we wrote: “No data collected through Portal — even call log data or app usage data, like the fact that you listened to Spotify — will be used to target users with ads on Facebook.”
We wrote that because that’s what we were told by Facebook executives.
But Facebook has since reached out to change its answer: Portal doesn’t have ads, but data about who you call and data about which apps you use on Portal can be used to target you with ads on 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.
That isn’t very surprising, considering Facebook’s business model. The biggest benefit of Facebook owning a device in your home is that it provides the company with another data stream for its ad-targeting business.
That isn’t what was conveyed when we spoke to Facebook executives at Portal’s launch. But in a follow-up call with Rafa Camargo, the product VP in charge of Portal, he apologized for sharing inaccurate info and said that while this data can technically be used for ad targeting, he doesn’t know if it will be.
He added that the Portal team doesn’t plan to use the data for ad targeting purposes because Portal doesn’t run ads, which was part of the confusion.
It could, however, be used to target ads to users on other Facebook apps.
“I think [my colleague] was intending to say that we don’t intend to use it,” Camargo told Recode. “Potentially, it could be used.”
This confusion, though, is exactly why people have concerns around Portal and any other Facebook-owned app or device right now. Explaining exactly what data Facebook collects — and how that data is used — has been a challenge for the company. Properly explaining that with a new in-home device equipped with microphones and a video camera is even more important.