retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

It was with some amusement over the weekend that, while watching football, I saw a commercial for Facebook’s new Portal, a piece of hardware that enables people to have video chats in which the camera actually shifts with them as they move around the room; it is described as having an “always-listening microphone and always-watching camera.”

The product seems pretty cool. Even the commercials - the one I saw over the weekend can be seen at left - seem cool.

There’s just one problem. Facebook at this moment seems like the absolutely wrong company that you’d want to have an always-listening microphone and always-watching camera in your home or office. For a variety of reasons too numerous to enumerate here, Facebook has demonstrated itself to be remarkably tone-deaf when it comes to consumer privacy concerns and its own role in protecting its customers from having their personal data exploited by bad actors.

My favorite assessment, not surprisingly, of Facebook’s issues came from Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times, who argued that we should’ve known about Mark Zuckerberg’s character and Facebook’s intentions when we watched The Social Network, the 2010 movie written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher:

“Watch it again and you’ll be reminded that Mr. Zuckerberg didn’t start out by describing his creation with lofty phrases characterizing it as 'a social mission to make the world more open and connected,’ which is the way he often refers to it now.

“His journey to moguldom began ignobly, with Facemash.com, a meanspirited site that encouraged his fellow male students at Harvard College to rate women on campus by their looks.”

In other words, it may be fair to say that Facebook was/is more exploitive than enabling.

Which is to day, exactly the wrong company to allow to have an always-listening microphone and always-watching camera in your home or office.

I liked the commercial. But it took me about two seconds to say, “No freakin’ way.”

Except that I didn’t say “freakin’.”


KC's View: