After releasing the two Portal and Portal+ smart displays on October 8, Facebook has now started to sell them to U.S. customers at portal.facebook.com, Amazon.com, and BestBuy.com, and in Amazon Books and Best Buy stores.
Despite both devices seemingly doing everything they were meant to do and more according to most reviews, one thing stands out: Facebook's continuous struggle to reassure their potential Portal customers that the two devices are not used for ad targeting.
The "we don’t use it to target ads" mantra is plastered everywhere Facebook found some free space in the hope of possibly imprinting at the back of their customers' minds.
On October 16, a Facebook spokesperson told Recode that "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."
Also that, "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."
Furthermore, Rafa Camargo, Portal VP, also told Recode that the data Facebook would collect using its Portal devices "[..] we don’t intend to use it. Potentially, it could be used."
Facebook says Portal is not used for ad targeting. Facebook also says Portal is used for ad targeting.
Directly contradicting what Rafa stated, in the post announcing that the Portal devices have started shipping, Facebook said that "Facebook does not listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls, so this information cannot be used for advertising" (emphasis ours.)
However, according to the "Portal: Privacy and Ads" post also published today, Facebook said that "Some of this information, including the fact that you logged into your account or how often you use a feature or app, may be used to inform the ads you see across Facebook" (emphasis ours.)
Furthermore, "When you make a Portal video call, we process the same device usage information as other devices with Messenger installed. This can include volume level, number of bytes received, and frame resolution — it can also include the frequency and length of your calls. Some of this information may be used to target ads" (emphasis ours.)
On the other hand, they also say that "Facebook does not listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls, so this information cannot be used for advertising" (emphasis ours.)
Taking all of the above into consideration, with all those contradictory statements Facebook seems to further highlight its insecurities and also draw everyone's attention to the issue at hand: the ad targeting capabilities of the Portal and Portal+ devices.
Facebook's Portal devices don't have hardware or software issues; the problem is the users' lack of trust
Saying that their communication skills are lacking would be an understatement at this point, given that it's still obvious they haven't yet made their mind up what exactly to say when asked if Facebook-branded smart displays are being used or not for ad targeting.
Fact is that despite all the effort Facebook puts into reassuring everyone of their good intentions, most people already have their mind made up.
There are those who don't care one bit about their privacy and who would continue using their Facebook accounts even after having their personal data stolen and sold on the black market.
And there are also the other ones, the ones that who wouldn't touch the Facebook's Portal devices with a ten-foot pole after all the security breaches the social network went through this year alone.
While hardware and software issues are something that can be troubleshot and fixed, gaining back people's trust will be a feat Facebook will need a lot of time to pull off, if ever.
What's important is that millions of users had their personal information traded on Facebook for political gains and that more than 50 million of them had their profiles accessed by hackers in a security breach announced on September 28.