You got to give Facebook a lot of credit.
The social media giant that was the No. 1 "fake news" weapon of choice of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and his army of trolls during the 2016 election, now wants to put a Facebook camera, video screen and microphone in the homes of millions of Americans. Talk about being tone-deaf to PR.
Facebook unveiled Portal on Oct. 8, which Recode says is "a kitchen or living-room gadget meant to compete with Alexa devices from Amazon and related gizmos from Google."
Executives are adamant that Portal was designed with the most-stringent privacy safeguards. "There should be no surprises on it, period," said Dave Kaufman, Portal's marketing lead. "You should know that you have full control over everything you're saying."
Facebook claims that Portal "aligns with the company's mission to connect people with their friends and family," according to Recode.
What's the rush?
The Cambridge Analytica scandal is still fresh in the minds of the 87 million Facebook users who had their data collected without their permission.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who at first downplayed reports of Russian manipulation of the social giant during the 2016 election season, now has apologized and reversed course.
He says Facebook has launched an all-out effort to reduce the amount of disinformation, fake news and divisive messages on its site.
Last month, Zuckerberg posted a more than 3,000-word blog outlining all the security measures that have been put into place. "In 2016, we were not prepared for the coordinated information operations we now regularly face," he wrote. "But we have learned a lot since then and have developed sophisticated systems that combine technology and people to prevent election interference on our services."
Zuckerberg has been raked over the coals. He's starred in high-profile Congressional hearings, in which Facebook was roundly blasted for its role in election interference here and overseas.
More attacks are ahead. Intelligence services have already warned that Team Putin is eager for a disinformation encore.
Portal is simply a product whose time has not come.
The specter of Vlad hijacking Portal to peek into US living rooms and kitchens is downright creepy.
At the very least, Zuckerberg should have waited until well after the midterm elections before introducing Portal. The company needs to show the world that its tools to defeat disinformation work. The midterms are a good test.
If the Russians return to Facebook during the midterms, Zuckerberg will have many more important things (e.g, the future of the company) to worry about than the success of Portal.