Report: Facebook delays smart speaker after privacy outrage
- Facebook decided against showing off new smart speakers at its developer conference in May, partly because of public outrage over how the social network shared the personal data of 50 million people, according to a report from Bloomberg. The voice-enabled devices weren’t expected to be available until the fall, but the company hoped to preview the products at the F8 conference in San Jose, CA.
- Facebook’s video chat device is expected to be named the “Portal,” and will be equipped with a wide-angle lens with facial recognition that associates users with their Facebook accounts, per Cheddar. Facebook intends to differentiate the Portal from similar products by Amazon, Google and Apple by emphasizing its social features.
- Facebook on Wednesday announced plans to redesign its mobile app to show a Privacy Shortcuts menu that brings together privacy settings in one place instead of 20 different screens, said Bloomberg. It also eliminated ad targeting that employs data from third parties. The company is making the changes as part of its effort to contain a widening scandal over the misuse of user data.
A eventual move into smart home devices is a necessary strategic step for Facebook as voice-driven engagements with the web are expected to continue to grow, meaning Facebook could lose ground to Amazon, Google and Apple — which all have smart device products in homes right now — as a result of the delay. As such, this development underscores the potentially lasting impact that the Cambridge Analytica scandal could have on the social media giant. Facebook is a powerful mobile marketing platform, given the vast amount of data the company has collected about its 2.2 billion users, and its recent efforts to collect more information about people’s “offline” behavior in brick-and-mortar stores. Creating a smart-speaker device that peers into homes is the logical next step for a company that is paid to understand how to influence the viewing and purchase decisions of consumers.
Facebook’s reported decision to delay the introduction of smart-speaker devices is likely a wise move as the company faces increased scrutiny for sharing user data without seeking the informed consent of millions of users. Consumers are unlikely to trust a soulless corporation that acts as a surveillance agency for advertisers, political parties and foreign governments that revel in an unregulated platform to spread propaganda.
The data privacy controversy isn’t likely to go away soon, considering that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faces a public grilling in front of Congress in the next few weeks. The congressional panel may take the opportunity to highlight Facebook’s long history of invading people’s privacy, going back to Zuckerberg’s reported hacking of the email accounts of two reporters at the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, as detailed by Business Insider. Throughout its history, the company has fended off criticism as it changed privacy policies or added new features.
Apple CEO Tim Cook this month has been more vocal in his criticism of Facebook, whose entry into the hardware market would place the companies in more direct competition. Cook called for “well-crafted” regulations that prevent user data being compiled and applied in new ways without their knowledge in remarks at the annual China Development Forum in Beijing on Saturday. He re-asserted his stance on privacy as “a human right” and “a civil liberty” this week in an interview that will air on MSNBC on April 7, per Recode. “The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product,” Cook said. “We’ve elected not to do that.” Apple updated its privacy controls with the release of iOS 11.3.
Facebook faces lawsuits and investigations worldwide over its data-sharing practices. The company has managed resolve past complaints for piddling amounts of money, per Bloomberg. This time may be different, given the cantankerous political climate following the polarizing presidential election of 2016, and stricter European Union privacy rules that take effect May 25. A Special Counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign has provided a steady drip of news that repeatedly highlights Facebook’s role in swaying the U.S. electorate.