Facebook backtracks, says data from Portal devices may inform ad targeting

Facebook previously said it wouldn't use Portal data directly for ad targeting.

When Facebook last week unveiled Portal, its home video calling device, it created the perception that the piece of hardware would have nothing to do with ad targeting -- thereby steering clear of the privacy and data handling headaches that have plagued Facebook all year.

However, the social media giant is walking back the original remarks of its executives, clarifying that data collected by Portal devices may, in fact, inform ad targeting on various Facebook platforms.

In a statement to Recode, a Facebook spokesperson said: "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. 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."

That contradicts what Facebook said to reporters from various outlets, including CNET, ZDNet's sister site -- that the company wouldn't use Portal data directly for ad targeting.

The confusion, apparently, stemmed from the fact that the Portal device itself won't run ads.

It's not surprising Facebook would try to leverage this new data stream for ad targeting, given that the company makes the bulk of its money from ads. In its last quarterly report, Facebook said it earned $13.23 billion in revenues with $13 billion come from ads, up 42 percent from a year prior.

Still, Facebook's persistent problems with handling user data seem to be taking a toll on the business. While its revenues were strong in Q2, they missed market expectations. Meanwhile, user growth in the US and Canad was flat quarter-over-quarter.

Facebook's data policies have been under serious scrutiny since earlier this year, when it acknowledged that the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica mishandled data from millions of Facebook users. Since then, the company has given less-than-clear explanations of how it leverages user information and how it protects it. Meanwhile, in just the past few weeks, Facebook has acknowledged that hackers stole personal information belonging to tens of millions of users.

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