When Facebook unveiled its Portal smart speakers last week, it insisted that the devices will protect your privacy even though they're equipped with a camera and microphones. The focus on privacy isn't surprising for a company that's still in hot waters following the Cambridge Analytica revelations earlier this year. But, as much as you might want to trust Facebook, you should know that the Portal devices will collect data about you. That data may be used in the future to target you with better ads.
In other words, a Facebook device that you'd actually pay for will still collect data that could then make Facebook more money off you. Facebook insisted during its Cambridge Analytica hearings that advertising is what allows its service to be free — not that you can pay for using an ad-free Facebook right now.
Data collection is now a confirmed Portal feature, and Facebook had to change its statements on the matter that it made to Recode:
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 advertisements on other Facebook-owned properties.
Here's what a Facebook spokesperson now told the blog, correcting the previous statements that Facebook's Rafa Camargo made:
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.
Camargo, who's the vice president in charge of Portal, then told Recode the Portal team didn't plan to use the data for ads, but that the data could potentially be used for ads in the future:
I think [my colleague] was intending to say that we don't intend to use it, Potentially, it could be used.
Facebook isn't the only company that will collect data from a voice-based assistant. Collecting some user data is how every piece of technology works. But Facebook's having to confirm that the Portal gadgets have the potential to turn more of your data into ads isn't something Portal skeptics will like hearing, not after the year Facebook had so far.