Facebook Admits Camera-Equipped Portal Smart Displays Can Be Used For Targeted Ads

Facebook Portal
Facebook has faced scrutiny for its lapses in privacy protections, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal that prompted the US Congress to question Mark Zuckerberg about all aspects of the social network, along with Facebook's history of screwing up and later apologizing. So, some users may find it concerning that Facebook's new Portal and Portal+ smart camera devices can in fact be used to facilitate targeted ads.

Portal and Portal+ represent Facebook's attempt to cash in on the smart device craze that was largely started by Amazon and its Echo line. Rather than go out completely on its own, Facebook infused Amazon's Alexa assistant into its Portal gadgets. They are essentially Facebook's versions of Amazon's Echo Show, with the same digital assistant sitting behind the curtain.

Initially, Facebook had said that any data collected through its Portal devices would not be used to target users with ads on Facebook. However, the company has clarified things to say that yes, the data could actually be used for targeted ads.

"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," Facebook told Recode.

We would have assumed as much, if not for Facebook putting the word out previously that this would not be the case. After all, Facebook thrives on targeted ads. Zuckerberg was upfront about this when testifying to Congress, saying that users prefer to receive ads that a relevant to them rather than random ads, if ads are part of the experience either way.

How this will play out remains to be seen. Facebook's product VP Rafa Camargo also said that while data can be used for targeted ads, he doesn't know if it will actually happen. He also pointed out that the Portal devices do not serve up ads directly. If the data is to target ads, it would be on other Facebook apps.