A report out of Asia said in mid-February that Facebook is ready to compete against Amazon, Google, and Apple with a smart speaker product series of its own. That’s a big move from Facebook, a company that is not exactly known for making its own hardware. Of course, the smart speaker business is too huge to ignore right now, a stepping-stone to a future where we’ll interact with computers by voice more than ever.
But Facebook is reportedly postponing its plans in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal… for pretty obvious reasons.
The thought of having a Facebook speaker in your home that can hear everything you say is pretty scary, as I said back in February, well before the Cambridge Analytica privacy-related issues came to light. I’m even more convinced of that right now. Yes, Amazon and Google’s speakers also record everything you say to their assistants. But can you really trust Facebook with the same information given its numerous transgressions when it comes to user privacy?
It turns out, Facebook is also worried about how customers might react to its smart speakers. The devices, codenamed Aloha and Fiona according to previous reports, were supposed to be unveiled in May at Facebook’s developer conference, according to Bloomberg. That’s not happening anymore because the public is “so outraged about the social network’s data privacy practices,” people familiar with the matter said.
The devices were intended to go on sale only in the fall, although a preview was scheduled for May. Now, the speakers are undergoing a “deeper review,” as Facebook wants to ensure the company makes the right trade-offs regarding user data. Facebook apparently still plans to launch them later this year, though they may undergo some changes first.
The report notes that Facebook’s own focus group testing showed that users were concerned about trusting Facebook-branded devices in their homes. It’s unclear whether these focus group tests were held before or after the Cambridge Analytica revelations.