Facebook: Yeah, Maybe Now Isn't the Best Time to Launch Our New Speaker Designed to Spy on You

By Tom McKay on at

Facebook “has decided not to unveil” its line of connected home speakers, which boast digital assistant and video-chat capabilities, at its developer conference in May because too many people have wised up to the fact said products will probably turn their homes into Mark Zuckerberg-surveilled Panopticons, Bloomberg reported.

According to Bloomberg, Facebook has decided that the ongoing fallout of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal—in which the shady election data firm partnered with an app to build “psychometric profiles” on 50 million users without their consent—is the wrong time to move forward with the products. Zuckerberg has been called to testify before Congress over the incident, and may find himself hard-pressed to explain why Facebook let app developers access extensive data on users who hadn’t willingly sharing it. The Federal Trade Commission is also reportedly investigating whether company’s practises constitute a violation of a 2011 regulatory agreement, something that could result in staggering fines.

So yes, this might be indeed be a bad time to introduce a line of physical products whose purpose in the home is to collect data on users. Bloomberg writes:

The company’s new hardware products, connected speakers with digital-assistant and video-chat capabilities, are undergoing a deeper review to ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data, the people said. While the hardware wasn’t expected to be available until the fall, the company had hoped to preview the devices at the largest annual gathering of Facebook developers, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal plans.

The devices are part of Facebook’s plan to become more intimately involved with users’ everyday social lives, using artificial intelligence — following a path forged by Amazon.com Inc. and its Echo in-home smart speakers.

The Bloomberg report also mentioned that Facebook had “already found in focus-group testing” that users were wary of a “Facebook-branded device in their living rooms,” which... well, duh. It’s unlikely the recent spate of very bad PR, which could get worse if Zuckerberg does poorly during whatever congressional hearings he might eventually end up speaking at or Facebook reveals firms other than Cambridge Analytica have absconded with user data, which it has already admitted is likely.

In any case, connected smart speakers whose purpose is at least partially to harvest user data are already a slightly concerning proposition, and it’s pretty clear that Facebook in particular is treading on thin ice. While it says that new privacy rules will be announced at the May developer’s conference, Facebook has lost about $80 billion (£56.4 billion) in market value since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, per CNBC, or roughly 18 per cent. [Bloomberg]


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