Facebook’s new Portal in-home calling device has just gone on sale in the United States. While there isn’t yet much data showing the level of fanfare for the new product, one thing is certain: that data will reveal if Facebook has any trust left with consumers.
The video-call device is coming to market right as Facebook enters a trust crisis with its users who have witnessed the company experience data breaching that has reached far over the creepy line.
Beyond the well-known Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which up to 87 million people had their personal data harvested without their consent, recent reports of Facebook user information hacking has come to light, painting a sickeningly dystopian image of how breached information can be spread on the Web.
The hackers who siphoned intimate personal information from 90 million users, likely through a web browser extension/s, placed the content for sale somewhere on the Internet. It appears the information was stored in an easy-to-navigate database where, for example, one user’s chat about her son-in-law was available.
With all this going on, there are hints that the Facebook community is losing trust. A recent survey from Pew found that 44 percent of those ages 18 to 29 say they’ve deleted the Facebook app from their phone in the last year. On top of that, it was found that a large number of users have adjusted their privacy settings and even have separated themselves from the social platform in the form of a “break.”
Now in comes Portal, hitting shelves just in time for the American consumer to consider it as a holiday gift for a significant other or to have for personal use.
Facebook has ensured the public that the video conversations will go through a form of encryption and will not be able to identify the talking parties. Nor does it record anything … not yet anyway.
“The device doesn’t even have the functionality to record,” Facebook vice president of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth told Bloomberg. “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. We may over time.”
Bosworth confirmed that Portal will collect data on its users.
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Portal uses Facebook Messenger to run its video calling, so it collects all the same stuff Messenger does. The company will record data on how frequently you log on and who you talk to, and that sort of information will help sort what Facebook shows you on its other properties. For example, if you talk frequently to certain people, they will show up more highly ranked in Messenger and in the Facebook news feed. Frequency of that activity might help advertisers in some way, Bosworth said.
“If there’s an ad-targeting cluster on Facebook for people interested in video calling, that might be a cluster that now I’m going to be a part of,” he said.
Bosworth’s simple explanation on what the Facebook Messenger app collects is perhaps a little too light to actually make the case that user privacy will be protected. Earlier in the year, it came to light that the company’s Messenger app was collecting call and text histories from those using the Android operating system without users being fully conscious of the collection activity.
Amazon’s Alexa, which has had its own bizarre run-ins with privacy controversy, will be integrated into Portal. The commands given to Alexa will be recorded and stored for history, according to Bosworth.
The social giant seems to be aware of user skepticism as it has integrated a plastic cover for the camera for those who feel uncomfortable.
Now that it is clear data will be collected on users of Facebook’s new calling device, a question now begs: will consumers let this known data collector, which is hemorrhaging trust with the public, into their homes to point a camera and microphone at their most intimate moments?
The sales of Portal will obviously provide the answer to this question and could serve as the ultimate test for what trust Facebook has left with social media and tech consumers.
Sales numbers could also give us a glimpse into the future of the social network with some now speculating that recent data breaches and account purging has put the once considered “too big to fail” platform on pace for a Myspace type extinction.
Adding in the recent drop in user growth, a number that contributed to a shedding of $145 billion of market capitalization in July, Portal’s acceptance could prove to be paramount for future company expansions.