Facebook says its new Portal device is not a 'data-gathering operation' despite previously acknowledging that it might use your call info to target ads

facebook portal

Rob Price/Business Insider

Facebook Portal.

  • 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 advertising.

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 October, 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 ads

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.