You've probably had a family member or relative swear that Facebook is always listening to your conversations. The idea is that it must be reading your texts and listening to your conversations because that's the only explanation for all of the targeted ads you see when you use Facebook's website or apps.
Apparently, some people are actually okay with that idea, even if it's not true, because otherwise, I'm not sure who the target market is for the Portal device the company introduced last year.
The Portal by Facebook.
If you don't remember, or automatically tuned out when you heard that Facebook wanted to put a camera and microphone in your home, that's basically what this is--a Facebook-branded camera and microphone. In your home.
Facebook would probably finesse it by saying that it's actually a smart home device in the same vein as the Amazon Echo Show, which--by the way--has been about as popular as carpenter ants.
No one really wants it in their home.
A Facebook camera in your home.
Actually, the Portal is Alexa enabled, so it's pretty much a higher-quality, better-conceived version of the Show--but with Facebook. Still, the Portal is this weird combination of an interesting yet creepy device that most people aren't sure why it exists.
Presumably, it is designed for video calling, but you can already do that through the Facebook app, or through non-Facebook tools like FaceTime. One of the apparent differentiating features of the Portal is that its camera can follow you as you move around a room, or zoom out when someone else joins the frame and can initiate a call with just your voice.
Ah, that's exactly what we need. A Facebook microphone that actually is always listening and a camera that follows you around the room.
Upload photos and make video calls from the app.
The new apps are useful though if you happen to have the Portal, though they aren't exactly a reason to run out and get one. Previously you could only display photos that were already uploaded to galleries on Facebook, but the app lets you add photos from your camera app without having to actually upload them to your profile.
The verdict is definitely out on the Portal, despite that fact that reviewers agree that it's a high-quality device. The CIA makes high-quality devices too, but most of us would pass on putting them on our kitchen counter. That's pretty much how most of us feel about letting Facebook in on more of our daily lives, which, let's face it, is ironic since a lot of us display way too much real life online anyway.
Privacy controls remain to be seen.
Perhaps, once Facebook demonstrates that it is better able to actually protect its users' private information and changes some of its creep-inducing features like targeted ads, the Portal might actually become a useful way to stay connected. As a parent, I could see being able to call home to check on the kids from my iPhone while I'm out.
Then again, I can already do that with FaceTime, which won't send me ads later for all the things my kids want me to pick up while I'm out.
Why it matters to your business.
The Portal by Facebook is decidedly a personal device, but there's a lesson here for businesses. It doesn't matter how good your product is if your reputation doesn't back it up. The reason people don't want Facebook to put a camera in their home is that the company doesn't exactly have a reputation for protecting, or even respecting, its users' privacy.
Sometimes, instead of dreaming up the next big thing, it's more important to focus on the main thing--building trust with your customers.