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Facebook says Portal is not a ‘data gathering operation’ but call info can be used for ads



facebook portal

Rob Price/Business

  • Facebook’s new video-chat and smart-speaker device,
    Portal, goes on sale in the US today.
  • But Facebook can’t shake privacy concerns over its
    always-on microphones and camera.
  • Consumer hardware boss Andrew Bosworth said Portal is
    not a “data-gathering operation.”
  • This is despite Facebook previously acknowledging that
    it will collect information on calls to better target

Facebook today launches its $199 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
, 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 may be used in ad targeting.

Now, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of consumer
hardware, has attempted to reassure 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 collects for Facebook is 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 confirmed.

Read more: Facebook has admitted that data
collected by its Portal devices could be used in targeted

Bosworth added that Portal does 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. We may over time,” he said.

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 50 million users’ accounts
, announced late
last month, and the
Cambridge Analytica breach
 this 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
emphasize several privacy features of the device, from a camera
cover to the ban on recording.

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