Have you heard about Facebook's new video chat tablets, the Portal and Portal+, released today? Check the many initial product announcement reports from a month ago or the reviews that came out today and you'll find them virtually unanimous.
Not about the quality. About how Facebook's terrible data privacy problems should make anyone think twice about buying the product. This could be a flop on the order of the 2011 Facebook Phone. And you can lay it all at the feet of the tone-deaf uncontrolled management practices of CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The write-ups are uncommonly harsh and probing in an uncommon manner. In ways that Facebook should have been able to anticipate and, maybe, avoid by not releasing a product that seems even more potentially invasive than the social network itself.
Here are some examples:
- "I just couldn't bring myself to set up Facebook's camera-embedded screen in the privacy of my family's home. Can you blame me when you look at the last 16 months?"--Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal
- "To call Facebook's newest home surveillance device ill-timed is generous. It's like Trump announcing a new resort and casino in Moscow or BP announcing a fleet of Deepwater Horizon oil tankers. It's a flagrant flex of Facebook's market share muscle and a yet another reminder that the company's data collection ambitions supersede all else."--Charlie Warzel at BuzzFeed
- "But the story of this product isn't just what it can and can't do -- it's whether people will be willing to bring a Facebook-connected mic and camera into their home at all."--Jacob Kastrenakes at The Verge
- "And, of course, there's all the privacy baggage that inviting Facebook into your home entails. Between the camera/speaker disabling button, lens cap, localized AI and the promise not to eavesdrop or spy, Facebook has gone out of its way to ensure users that it's not using the device as a portal into your own privacy. But given the kind of year the company's been having, for many potential buyers not even all of that is likely to be enough."--Brian Heater at TechCrunch
- "The oddest thing about the Portal+ isn't the interface or design. It's that Facebook thinks people will be comfortable having one of its always-listening microphones and cameras in the home, despite its string of recent privacy issues."--Heather Kelly at CNN Business
Bloomberg ran an entire piece in which reporter Sarah Frier grilled Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's vice president of consumer hardware, about the privacy issues.
Facebook knew damned well that privacy would be a huge issue with what many already consider an electronic Trojan horse. That's why the comapny has marketed this as "private by design." Fat lot of good that bit of spin is going to do.
If I were on the PR team for Facebook's Portal, I'd have already started looking for a bar that was open.
The reason for all this comes down to Mark Zuckerberg. He has shown a continuing lack of emotional intelligence and a determination to have everything his way, which includes overturning long-standing popular expectations of consumer privacy. Even after those have been whittled away by many other high-tech companies, like Google, over the years.
Facebook remains dogged by mistrust because of all the actions and decisions it has taken since its inception and that it continues to support. And, given the total control Zuckerberg has over the company through his lock on shareholder votes, it all comes down to him.
Just yesterday he refused to answer questions from U.K. and Canada lawmakers over data privacy as well as fake news. The company showed its letter of declination to CNBC but then refused to answer any questions. Because Facebook apparently thinks that it really isn't anyone else's business.
Corporate privacy is important, you know.
At the beginning of this year, Zuckerberg said he would make it a personal goal to fix Facebook. And he hasn't, nor does he really seem so inclined. Even though, as Inc's Jeff Bercovici points out, Zuckerberg has the absolute power to do so.
The only logical conclusions I can see are these:
- Zuckerberg is cowed by investors and the potential loss of advertising funds from the lack of personal information that helps drive higher pricing.
- That with all the resources and control he has available, he can't figure out how to--that the problem is bigger than Facebook is able to address.
- He wasn't serious in the first place.
None of these answers is remotely acceptable to a world of consumers. And that's why the new Portal and Portal+ are likely to be a dud.