- Facebook’s new video-chat and smart-speaker device, Portal, goes on sale in the US on Thursday.
- But Facebook can’t shake privacy concerns over its always-on microphones and camera.
- The company’s consumer-hardware boss, Andrew Bosworth, said Portal was not a “data-gathering operation.”
- This is despite Facebook previously acknowledging that it would collect information on calls to better target advertising.
Facebook on Thursday launches its $US199 video-chat and smart-speaker device, Portal. But it can’t seem to shake concerns that the new piece of hardware will double as a surveillance system.
The company unveiled the Portal in October, at which time Facebook said no data collected through the device would be used to target users with ads. It later changed its story, telling Recode that information like call lengths and frequency might be used in ad targeting.
Now, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of consumer hardware, has attempted to convince users that the Portal is not just another weapon in the firm’s information-gathering armory.
“This isn’t a data-gathering operation,” he told Bloomberg.
Bosworth said the data Portal collected for Facebook was limited. “Hey, Portal” commands will be sent to a server to retrieve an answer, but the command history can be deleted and won’t be used to target advertising, he said.
Bosworth added that Portal did not have recording functionality – yet. “If you wanted to do a Facebook Live from the device or ask what your cat did when you were gone, we don’t actually have that functionality today,” he said. “We may over time.”
It’s an interesting time for Facebook to offer a product like this. The company has been rocked in recent months by a string of scandals – including a hack of about 30 million users’ accounts first disclosed in September and the Cambridge Analytica breach this past spring – and its approach to user privacy is under intense scrutiny from both the public and lawmakers.
At a demonstration in San Francisco with Business Insider before the Portal’s launch, company representatives were quick to emphasise several privacy features of the device, from a camera cover to the ban on recording.