Facebook delays smart speaker as privacy scandal grows


the Facebook logo on an iPhone 6 Plus
Facebook's smart speaker is on the back burner.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Embroiled in controversy, Facebook has delayed the release of its smart speaker. Caught leaking data on millions of its users, the company apparently decided this would be the wrong time to introduce a product designed to gather even more such information.

Facebook scrapped its plan to launch a competitor for Apple’s HomePod and Amazon’s Echo Show at the F8 conference in May. The company is only pushing back the smart speaker debut, not canceling the device.

The entire smart speaker category manages to be both popular and controversial. Millions of the devices sit in in kitchens and living rooms, constantly listening to every utterance around them. The terms and conditions for products with Amazon’s very popular Alexa voice assistant make it clear that Amazon reserves the right to do anything it wants with data gathered by the device. Facebook will surely follow suit, as that’s a huge part of the social network’s business model.

Apple is pro-privacy; Facebook is definitely not

Apple takes protecting its customers’ privacy seriously, so anything overheard by a HomePod does not get shared. Anybody purchasing a Facebook smart speaker likely can be sure that their voice interactions will be sold to advertisers. Or the data could leak to companies to create profiles for use in political campaigns, as happened with the growing Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The Facebook app already surreptitiously listens to user conversations unless ordered not to. It will also track users’ locations. It’s getting hard to tell the difference between Facebook and a stalker.

A Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg that its smart speaker will be introduced later this year after the company takes time “to ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data.”

The Facebook smart speaker is expected to come with a screen for displaying status updates and images. Rumors indicate the device will include a video chat feature.