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Facebook employees caught leaving 5* Portal reviews

Image credit: REUTERS/Toby Melville

A handful of Facebook employees have been leaving glowing five-star reviews for Facebook’s Portal: the social network’s voice-activated smart camera and display

Facebook launched its Portal and Portal+ devices two months ago to mixed responses. The devices – which run Amazon’s Alexa – are intended largely for video calls, and follow similar smart displays offered by Google and Apple.

While Facebook has qualified that the Portal camera does not identify subjects, and does not store video calls or use them for advertising purposes, consumers are naturally suspicious about placing a Facebook camera in their homes following a year in which Facebook has been rocked by privacy scandals and data breaches. Most notably, an Observer investigation revealed that the personal data of 87 million users had been gathered by a data analytics company, Cambridge Analytica, in order to design personalised political adverts used by the Trump campaign in 2016.

A week after the release of the Portal, Facebook admitted that the smart display was capable of collecting data for use in ad personalisation.

Perhaps in an underhand effort to convince uncertain consumers that the Portal is worth the money and inherent privacy risk, some Facebook employees have been leaving five-star reviews of the product on Amazon in violation of the online marketplace’s reviews policy.

A New York Times reporter, Kevin Roose, noticed that the names of congratulatory reviewers matched those of Facebook employees. All of the reviews were verified by Amazon, indicating that the reviewers had at least bought the Portal from Amazon.

“Reviewing your employer’s products is definitely against Amazon’s rules,” he commented. “It’s also not exactly an indicator of confidence in how well they’re selling organically.”

According to Amazon’s rules, it is forbidden to create, modify, or post content regarding your own (or your relative’s, close friend’s, business associate’s, or employer’s) products or services.

The reviews were almost entirely positive, referring to the device and its features as “really cool”, “AMAZING”, “great”, and “impressive”. Tim Chappell, head of supply chain and strategic sourcing for AR and VR at Facebook, commented that “I have historically not been a big Facebook or other social media user, but I took a chance and got 4 Portals and 1 Portal plus for the family”. At RRP, the purchase would have cost Chappell $1145 (£885).

In a Tweet, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s VP of AR and VR, confirmed that the reviews had been left by Facebook employees, commenting that Facebook had not coordinated or directed the reviews and that the company would request that their employees remove the reviews.

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