While developing its forthcoming video chat device for the home, Facebook has been haunted by its own reputation as a harvester of personal information.
The company is currently building an Amazon Echo competitor with a screen that’s internally referred to as Aloha, according to people familiar with the matter. The plan is to release the device by May 2018, but the date could change.
During the initial development of Aloha, Facebook employees conducted focus groups to understand how the device could be marketed. They received overwhelming concern that Facebook would use the device to spy on users, people familiar with the matter said.
The Aloha’s ability to recognise people through its camera also caused privacy concerns. Facebook rented a house to test the device in various rooms and people who were asked to test Aloha said they felt uncomfortable having the device recognise them in private spaces, like bedrooms.
To assuage concerns about privacy, Facebook has considered creative ways to market Aloha, including pitching it as a device for letting the elderly easily communicate with their families. The device could also be shipped without the “Facebook” name as a way to distance itself from the larger company brand.
A Facebook account will be needed to set up Aloha, which means the social network will have access to user interactions with the device. Facebook sees selling consumer hardware as a way for it to more closely integrate with the lives of its 2 billion users and inform its ad business, according to people familiar with the company’s thinking.
The privacy concerns expressed during Aloha’s development represent a privacy stigma Facebook will need to overcome as it pushes further into selling consumer hardware. The company ran into similar concerns back in 2013 when it introduced Facebook Home, an Android phone powered by Facebook apps and made by HTC. The phone flopped.
The consumer hardware division inside Facebook responsible for Aloha, called Building 8, is also working on a smart speaker without a screen, wearables, and more futuristic brain-scanning technology.
Facebook declined to comment on Aloha and any unreleased hardware.
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