Facebook admits its camera-equipped listening device can collect your data for ads

Facebook's decision to launch a camera-equipped listening device for people's living rooms, just months after one of the biggest data scandals in history, was greeted with a fair amount of suspicion.

Given that Facebook's business model relies on using people's data to serve them personalised ads, it seemed fair to assume that the Portal smart speaker could serve a purpose beyond simply acting as a voice-activated home assistant that can handle video calls.

Yet Facebook assured people that "no data collected through Portal – even call log data or app usage data, like the fact that you listen to Spotify – will be used to target users with ads on Facebook."

Within days of announcing this claim, however, Facebook was forced to backtrack.

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How to stop Facebook from revealing everything about you

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How to stop Facebook from revealing everything about you

1/9

Lock your profile down

If you haven’t done this already, do it now. In Settings, hit the Privacy tab. From here, you can control who gets to see your future posts and friends list. Choose from Public, Friends, Only Me and Custom in the dropdown menu.

2/9

Limit old posts

Annoyingly, changing this has no effect on who’s able to see your past Facebook posts. Instead, on the Privacy page, you have to click on Limit Past Posts, then select Limit Old Posts and finally hit Confirm on the pop-up.

3/9

Make yourself harder to find

You can stop completely random people from adding you by selecting Friends of Friends from the dropdown menu in the Who can send you friend requests? section of the Privacy page. It’s also worth limiting who can find your Facebook profile with your number and email address. At the bottom of the page is the option to prevent search engines outside of Facebook from linking to your profile.

4/9

Control access to your Timeline

You can limit who gets to post things on your Timeline and who gets to see posts on your Timeline too. In Settings, go to Timeline and Tagging and edit the sections you want to lock down.

5/9

Block people

When you block someone, they won’t be able to see things you post on your Timeline, tag you, invite you to events or groups, start conversations with you or add you as a friend. To do it, go to Settings and Blocking. Annoyingly, you have to block people on Messenger separately. You can also add friends to your Restricted list here, which means they’ll still be friends with you but will only be able to see your public posts and things you share on a mutual friend's Timeline.

6/9

Review tags

One of Facebook’s handiest privacy features is the ability to review posts you’re tagged in before they appear on your Timeline. They’ll still be visible on the News Feed while they’re fresh, but won’t be tied to your profile forever. In Timeline and Tagging, enable Timeline review controls.

7/9

Clean up your apps

You can view a list of all of the apps you’ve connected to your Facebook account by going to Settings and Apps. The list might be longer than you expected it to be. It’s worth tidying this up to ensure things you no longer use lose access to your personal information. If you don’t want to log into websites and apps with your facebook account, scroll down and turn Platform off.

8/9

Change your ad preferences

You can view a list of everything Facebook thinks you’re into and tinker with your ad preferences by going to Settings and Adverts. A lot more information is displayed on the desktop site than the app, so we’d recommend doing this on a computer.

9/9

Download your data

Facebook lets you download all of the data it has on you, including the posts you’ve shared, your messages and photos, ads you’ve clicked on and even the IP addresses that are logged when you log in or out of the site. It’s a hell of a lot of information, which you should download to ensure you never over-share on the social network again.

1/9

Lock your profile down

If you haven’t done this already, do it now. In Settings, hit the Privacy tab. From here, you can control who gets to see your future posts and friends list. Choose from Public, Friends, Only Me and Custom in the dropdown menu.

2/9

Limit old posts

Annoyingly, changing this has no effect on who’s able to see your past Facebook posts. Instead, on the Privacy page, you have to click on Limit Past Posts, then select Limit Old Posts and finally hit Confirm on the pop-up.

3/9

Make yourself harder to find

You can stop completely random people from adding you by selecting Friends of Friends from the dropdown menu in the Who can send you friend requests? section of the Privacy page. It’s also worth limiting who can find your Facebook profile with your number and email address. At the bottom of the page is the option to prevent search engines outside of Facebook from linking to your profile.

4/9

Control access to your Timeline

You can limit who gets to post things on your Timeline and who gets to see posts on your Timeline too. In Settings, go to Timeline and Tagging and edit the sections you want to lock down.

5/9

Block people

When you block someone, they won’t be able to see things you post on your Timeline, tag you, invite you to events or groups, start conversations with you or add you as a friend. To do it, go to Settings and Blocking. Annoyingly, you have to block people on Messenger separately. You can also add friends to your Restricted list here, which means they’ll still be friends with you but will only be able to see your public posts and things you share on a mutual friend's Timeline.

6/9

Review tags

One of Facebook’s handiest privacy features is the ability to review posts you’re tagged in before they appear on your Timeline. They’ll still be visible on the News Feed while they’re fresh, but won’t be tied to your profile forever. In Timeline and Tagging, enable Timeline review controls.

7/9

Clean up your apps

You can view a list of all of the apps you’ve connected to your Facebook account by going to Settings and Apps. The list might be longer than you expected it to be. It’s worth tidying this up to ensure things you no longer use lose access to your personal information. If you don’t want to log into websites and apps with your facebook account, scroll down and turn Platform off.

8/9

Change your ad preferences

You can view a list of everything Facebook thinks you’re into and tinker with your ad preferences by going to Settings and Adverts. A lot more information is displayed on the desktop site than the app, so we’d recommend doing this on a computer.

9/9

Download your data

Facebook lets you download all of the data it has on you, including the posts you’ve shared, your messages and photos, ads you’ve clicked on and even the IP addresses that are logged when you log in or out of the site. It’s a hell of a lot of information, which you should download to ensure you never over-share on the social network again.

A spokesperson for Facebook was unable to provide a comment to The Independent at the time of writing on Portal's data collecting practices, though the company confirmed to Recode how the device could in facet be used to target people with ads.

"Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices," a spokesperson said.

"We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads."

In its promotional materials for the Portal, Facebook has been keen to stress the device's privacy credentials, stating on its website that it was created with "privacy, safety and security in mind."

The internet giant has even sacrificed technology that it has previously implemented within its social network to make the site more efficient and user friendly, such as facial recognition.

It does, however, include rather unnerving tracking technology in its camera that uses artificial intelligence to follow people around the room. In an apparent effort to assuage fears surrounding this function, Facebook included a "privacy shutter" to allow people to physically block the camera's lens – a feature that was only reportedly added in response to poor public trust in Facebook.

Revelations that the personal data of 87 million Facebook users was harvested for the purpose of political profiling in the build up to the 2016 US Presidential elections and the UK's EU referendum of the same year, combined with more recent scandals surrounding the theft of 30 million user accounts, have contributed to the firm becoming the least-trusted brand for consumers when it comes to handling personal data.

And while the camera features a blocking device, the Portal comes with smart home assistants similar to those found on the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

These assistants are always listening in order to capture voice commands, adding further fuel to privacy fears – even if there is a button to physically disconnect the microphone from transmitting information.

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