Facebook Portal isn’t designed to be as private as you might hope


Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Facebook Portal isn't designed to be as private as you might hope

I doubt I’m alone in the world in thinking that allowing Facebook, of all companies, into your home with a microphone and a video camera is a pretty terrible idea.

But that, of course, is what the recently announced Facebook Portal video-enabled smart speaker gadget is trying to convince you is just what your life is missing.

Perhaps predicting that many consumers would be skeptical of such a device being built by – of all people – Facebook, the social media company was at pains to point out that Facebook Portal was “private by design”, and that (for now at least) they weren’t planning to pump any ads out through it:

“Portal does not have Facebook ads at this time. Some third-party services on Portal (e.g., music partners) may embed ads in their content in the same way they do when providing their services on other devices.”

But, just because Facebook says it isn’t going to be pushing any ads through Facebook Portal when it starts shipping in early November doesn’t mean necessarily that it isn’t going to collect information from you which could be used for advertising purposes, does it?

As Facebook Portal was announced to the world last week, journalists were assured by Facebook executives that consumers need have no fear about their data being used for targeted ads.

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As Recode described it, “no data collected through Portal — even call log data or app usage data, like the fact that you listened to Spotify — will be used to target users with ads on Facebook.”

But Kurt Wagner of Recode had to update his report this week, explaining that Portal is going to collect data about your usage of the device and its apps for the purposes of targeting ads at you on other parts of the Facebook empire.

“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. 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,” a spokesperson said in an email to Recode.

So, not really private by design then.

This, remember, is Facebook – the company that just days before Facebook Portal was unveiled announced a massive data breach impacting users. If they’re not using the information you freely give them so they can target you with ads, they’re losing control of it to hackers.

I quit Facebook earlier this year. If you’re finding it hard to imagine doing the same, why not listen to this “Smashing Security” podcast we put together describing the process of quitting Facebook:

Smashing Security #75: 'Quitting Facebook'

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Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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