As Facebook’s new video-calling devices — Portal and Portal+ — begin shipping Thursday, the company has issued an update for consumers detailing how it will use data collected on the device and what ads they may see there. Essentially, it amounts to a kind of “don’t worry, trust us,” explainer.
Much of it was a reiteration of what Facebook has said before — that it doesn’t capture data from Portal (it’s not listening to or recording video call content), but mentions of ads caught our attention.
Portal data used to target ads. Facebook confirmed it would process “the same kinds of information” it processes when people use Facebook products on their other devices and says it will use some of that data for ad targeting purposes.
“When you make a Portal video call, we process the same device usage information as other devices with Messenger installed,” writes Facebook on its news blog, “Some of this information may be used to target ads. For example, if you make lots of video calls, you might see some ads related to video calling.”
In other words, users who are frequently using up bandwidth for video calls on their WiFi via the Portal may end up seeing ads for faster or cheaper internet connections across the company’s other products: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Facebook Audience Network and soon WhatsApp.
According to Thursday’s update, here’s what users can expect to have tracked: account logins, how often they use a device feature, how often they call someone or how long they stay on a call. Facebook is also monitoring volume levels, bytes received and frame resolutions.
Marketing Land has reached out to Facebook for more details on user data that may be tracked via the Portal, but we have not yet received a response.
Third-party app ads on Portal. As far as ads showing up on Portal, the company says it will not show Facebook ads on the device, but users may see ads from third-party apps they may be using on their Portals. For example, if someone is using a music sharing app on the device, ads running on that app’s platform may appear on the device.
Portal’s entry into the smart speaker market. As Facebook’s home device launches, a recent Consumer Intelligence Research Partners survey finds smart speaker growth is leveling off. Whether Facebook will be able to compete with Amazon Alexa — which has a 70 percent market share among home devices — or Google Home remains to be seen. Both of these competitors have recently debuted speakers with screens, like the Portal.
Why it matters. Even though Facebook confirms it is not tracking video or audio content on the Portal to target ads, it is collecting data for ad targeting purposes with this new device. More user data — even limited data like logins and call frequency — translates to an even more powerful ad targeting platform. Advertisers already reaping the rewards of Facebook’s ad-targeting measures could potentially expect more laser-focused results as more information finds its way into Facebook’s ad targeting platform.
And while the current policy is not to run ads on the Portal, there is always a chance this could change, giving brands a new platform for their Facebook campaigns.
Once upon a time, Messenger didn’t have ads. Facebook’s WhatsApp will begin showing ads next year. As Facebook News Feed ad inventory continues to become more congested, chances are the company will be forced to find new screens upon which to display ads. Portal could be the answer.