• Benjamin Levy

Facebook's Innovation Misfire

Innovation value comes in one of three flavors. That new thing you’re bringing to the market might:

1. Enable folks to do something that they couldn’t do before; or

2. Enable folks to eliminate friction from some aspect of their lives; or

3. Be the result of being so intimately acquainted with your market that you can anticipate people’s needs and wants just as well or better than they do themselves.

Which brings me to Facebook’s boneheaded new product, the Facebook Portal. If ever there was an innovation drive that placed too much emphasis on new capabilities and not enough on what people really feel like they need, this is it. The gods or irony must be having a great time right now because, if there’s something that Facebook if famous for, its for knowing us better than we know ourselves.

“Facebook’s answer to every scandal is ‘more Facebook.’” So sayeth Molly Wood, host of Marketplace Tech and explainer of all things in the tech economy. And it’s true, Facebook’s answer to every misstep is to double down on the need to engage even more with Facebook. Sometimes we’re also treated to a treacly mea culpa from Zuckerberg. Our data, our private data, has made Facebook gazillions so it’s not like they’re likely to stop, is it? No. On the other hand, the public’s privacy concerns are a real thing, so what is Facebook to do? Double down, of course.

Enter FB’s new gadget, the Facebook Portal.

I imagine that a conversation between myself and the Facebook hivemind would go something like this:

Facebook: So I hear you’re having some privacy concerns.

Benjamin: I do. I have. Quite a few.

Facebook: I hear you, and I have a solution.

B: You do? Great. What is it.

F: It’s a doodad you put in your home, we call it a portal.

B: A Facebook Portal?

F: Exactly! It’s great. It’s got a screen, it responds to voice commands, you can hook it up to Alexa, and get this, get this. It’s got a camera, so you can videochat with your friends and family.

B: You want me to put a Facebook camera in my living room?

F: Yes. And get this, get this. This is great. The camera? It can follow you around. It can track you?

B: Are you insane?

F: Not that I’m aware of. Why would say such a hurtful thing?

B: Well… How to explain this to you. Do you remember that picture of Zuckerberg at work that was published some time ago? You know the one that I mean, where we could see his laptop in the background?

F: I remember.


F: There’s no need to shout. Of course he did. Mark is very security conscious.

(at this point I bang my head on the table hard enough to require stitches)

Someone on the Internet will rightly point out that Facebook’s taken a whole series of measures to assuage our privacy concerns. The gadget’s intelligence works locally they say, not dependent on servers at Facebook; they’ve included a handy camera cap; it also has a hard switch for camera and mic.

To which I simply say, “what’s your point?” If you are Facebook, you know that you have a credibility problem in terms of privacy. You know this, and yet you still go ahead with a creepy camera that will follow me around my living room? Really?

This is what happens when you equate innovation with product leadership. To be clear, the problem here is not that the Facebook Portal is not a new thing. Of course it’s a new thing. But is it a new thing of value? Of real value to the same people that have been repeatedly disappointed by FB’s lack of respect for their privacy? Probably not.

Of course, I could be proven wrong. Facebook users might value shiny new things a lot more than I thought, and place far less importance of the privacy blunders of the last few years. Time will tell.

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