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Data Privacy Conversation Continues as Facebook Introduces Smart Speaker

Jun 05, 2018

I recently wrote a blog about Facebook’s data-related scandals. In short, my message was that despite Facebook primarily operating as an online service provider, similar tech companies like Google and Amazon are investing heavily in deploying more devices in our homes. They want our data, and this is something consumers should be ever more aware of as this collection of data can have significant, real-world consequences. Earlier this May, those points were validated by reports that emerged about Facebook’s move into the connected speaker market.

Rumors of Facebook’s Connected Speaker

Facebook has been known to be working on a smart speaker since the summer of 2017. Rumors circulated that the speaker would be equipped with a touchscreen (similar to that of the Amazon Echo Show) for increased engagement with Facebook photos and its Messenger platform. Chinese iPhone manufacturer, Pegatron, was said to be building the product for a 1Q 2018 release. However, Facebook’s “week of shame” regarding the company’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica led to speculation that now may not be the best time for Facebook to launch a hardware product in the US. Instead, the company is expected to quietly launch its speaker internationally.

Europe’s Reluctance to Accept Facebook’s Tech

Unfortunately for Facebook, Europe, which was the next step in global expansion for other connected speaker companies like Amazon and Google, is also unlikely to accept the company with open arms. Given Europe’s significant regulations to give consumers more control over their own data with the European General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR), as well as Mark Zuckerberg’s admission to the European Parliament that the misuse of Facebook users’ private information has become a serious problem at the company, Facebook may not be ready to approach this market either. So it remains to be seen how the company plans to enter the connected speaker market.

Facebook as a Hardware Manufacturer and Its Significance

The underlying message in all of this is that Facebook is no longer limiting itself to operating primarily as an online service. The company is following suit to other tech companies and deploying a physical device that has the ability to “listen in” and collect data on consumers in their homes. This market progression not only highlights the need for companies involved in the connected speaker market (and the smart home in general) to earn the trust of consumers by clearly implementing and communicating data privacy measures, but also that consumers need to be ever more conscious of the technologies they bring into their homes, and what information they are willing to give away in exchange for these goods. Unless there is clear communication, education, and awareness on the matter, the development of the smart home and the promise it shows in the future may be hindered significantly.