The devices use artificial intelligence (AI) to create a more interactive, realistic chat experience that reacts to callers’ movements by automatically panning in and zooming out, and adjusting sound levels. The Portals also include Amazon’s voice-controlled Alexa, positioning the devices firmly as a competitor to other smart speaker devices like Google Home and Apple’s HomePod.
Marketers are on the sidelines, for now. As with most news around voice, marketers see opportunity — even if they don’t quite know what that is yet.
Darin Archer, chief marketing officer of e-commerce solutions provider Elastic Path, said, “As marketers, we’ve been trying to get into the living room for a long time.”
“It feels like the smart home is on its way to being normal,” Archer said. “I think the challenge will be in figuring out how and/or when to position one’s brand, products or services in this environment. It will be interesting to see how Facebook considers developers and marketing budgets with this new technology and how it will differ from having a Messenger chatbot.”
Trust is likely to be the pivotal factor. Facebook knows it has a trust problem, and the privacy-first stance the company is taking with the product releases marks a drastic shift. In a blog post, Facebook touted the Portal devices as being created with privacy and security in mind: calls are encrypted, there’s no facial recognition, users can disable the camera and microphone are among the privacy measures Facebook listed. Facebook also says it will not listen to the contents of the calls, a problem that has hit Amazon’s Alexa in the past.
Yes, most of the coverage so far has been skeptical. Privacy expert Ann Cavoukian, a former Information and Privacy Commissioner for Ontario that coined the term “Privacy by design” says on paper, Facebook’s security claims look good, but urges marketers who want to leverage the technology to “trust, but verify.”
“With all the breaches, I wouldn’t think anyone would just believe (the privacy claims),” Cavoukian said. “Why would anyone trust what Facebook is saying.”
Cavoukian said that if Facebook was really serious about creating a tool under privacy by design, it would have sought certification by a third-party. It should be noted that Cavoukian herself offers the certification with global audit firm KPMG. “The company has a trust deficit with the public. Especially with the trust deficit, (marketers and consumers) shouldn’t just accept what Facebook is telling them,” she said. “With a camera and video in your house, your bedroom, your living room that takes voice commands, how do you know if your information will be retained?”
Travis Ruff, chief information security officer for customer data platform Amperity, acknowledges the skepticism, but thinks the functionality will overcome users’ privacy concerns.
“It is interesting to see a company respond by being upfront and fully describing where and how consumers’ data is used,” said Ruff. “That being said, while transparency is important, transparency alone will not rebuild trust and there will need to be significant demonstrated progress in their security and privacy initiatives before trust is restored, if it even can be.
“However, the other aspect of this is that many consumers of this product are more concerned with functionality than privacy and will purchase it regardless of what actions Facebook takes. This is a calculated move, however one that Facebook will likely succeed at regardless of the outcome of their security and privacy initiatives.”
A positive for voice tech. Julia Stead, vice president of marketing at analytics provider Invoca, says the product release shows that “the lines continue to blur between traditional voice-based platforms (landlines, mobile phones) and the vast array of options today, from digital video communication (FaceTime, Skype) to AI-powered voice bots (Alexa, Google Home, in-car voice assistants).”
“Facebook Portal is an interesting move in that it solely focuses on being a communication tool – essentially a video phone – and isn’t linked to Facebook or Instagram accounts,” Stead said.
Stead says that marketers should see the move as a sign that voice tech is here to stay.
“It will still be some time before marketers can take advantage of this new platform, but it proves voice interactions are gaining more momentum than ever before, and they need to be top of mind. There could be interesting implications for Portal to drive human-to-human interactions in high-touch industries where the personal consumer-to-brand connection is vital like healthcare and personal services.”