Facebook hopes to benefit from the COVID-fuelled growth in home working by adding several major collaboration apps to its Portal video-calling service.
From September, housebound middle-managers and their lucky subordinates will be able to use Portal to arrange virtual get-togethers over BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Webex or Zoom. They can of course also use Facebook’s own collaboration service, Workplace.
It’s a shrewd and logical move by Facebook.
Portal got off to a slow start, but the lockdown wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic drove a sharp spike in sales. Facebook’s VP of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth said in a Protocol report a recently that the company saw a 10-fold increase in Portal sales between mid-March and mid-May.
Meanwhile, earlier this month O2 UK published a survey revealing that 45 percent of British workers believe lockdown will have a long-term effect on companies’ flexible working policies. The study also found that flexible working now ranks second only to salary when it comes to what job hunters look for in a prospective employer. Then there is the possibility that a dreaded second wave will see the re-imposition of strict lockdown measures, forcing those who have resumed the daily commute to stay at home again.
This boom in home working has provided Facebook with an opportunity to extend its role from enabling peoples’ social interactions to enabling their work interactions as well. After all, not everyone who works together socialises together, so getting a window into people’s work-based comms may also present a new and rich seam of data for Facebook to mine.
Not that Facebook would ever admit any interest in that. Instead a chunk of the official announcement was devoted to explaining how Portal comes with privacy baked in – an impressive feat for a product that is essentially a camera, microphone and screen with an Internet connection.
As well as getting its foot in the virtual meeting-room-door, Facebook also took steps this week to gain greater control over its virtual reality division, Oculus.
From October, first-time Oculus users will be required to log in to their VR service using their Facebook credentials. Existing customers who maintain a separate Oculus profile will have the option of merging it with their Facebook profile. Anyone uncomfortable with the idea of a company like Facebook gaining an intimate insight into their VR usage has until October 2023 to get over it, because after that, Oculus will end support for Oculus accounts.
“If you don’t want your Oculus friends to find you by your Facebook name, they won’t—just make it visible to ‘Only Me’ in your Oculus settings. You can also choose what information about your VR activity you post to your Facebook profile or timeline, either by giving permission to post or by updating your settings,” says Facebook.
That seems reassuring to the privacy-conscious, but of course, this being Facebook, users won’t enjoy the same degree of control over data seen by advertisers.
“Facebook will use information related to your use of VR and other Facebook products to provide and improve your experience. This information is also used to show you personalised content, including ads. For example, we might show you recommendations for Oculus Events you might like, ads about Facebook apps and technologies, or ads from developers for their VR apps.”
So, if you’re not comfortable with Facebook clients being able to see what virtual shenanigans you’ve been getting up to, it’s worth remembering that other VR headset are available.