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Facebook Postpones Hardware Unveil Amid Data Scandal

Facebook, embattled in a new data scandal, is postponing the launch of hardware products at its developer conference in May, in part because of the public backlash toward the company.

Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter, reported Facebook’s hardware products — which are expected to include Internet-connected speakers that have an embedded voice-activated digital assistant and the ability to engage in video chats — will go through more of a review at Facebook to make sure they have the right trade-off about data. The hardware isn’t slated to launch until the fall but Facebook had been gearing up to preview it at the developer conference. That all changed a little more than a week ago after Facebook revealed that Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm that helped get President Donald Trump elected, accessed the data of 50 million Facebook users without their consent. That has sparked a slew of investigations into the incident and Facebook’s data practices, sending shares of Facebook and other tech companies lower. The public has reacted, with some people vowing to delete their Facebook accounts and mistrust of the company growing. That has played into the decision to hold off on talking up the hardware products. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 41 percent of Americans trust Facebook to obey laws that protect their personal information. That’s compared with 66 percent who said they trust Amazon.com, 62 percent who have faith in Google, and 60 percent who trust Microsoft.

With concerns rising about how Facebook collects and uses the personal data of its more than 2 billion active users, it determined this may not be the right time to ask consumers to trust it with more of their personal data by connecting an Internet device inside their homes. The idea behind the hardware is to have Facebook more involved with consumers’ daily lives — similar to what Amazon is doing with Echo, its smart speakers that are controlled by voice-activated digital assistant Alexa. Bloomberg noted that even before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook found in focus groups that consumers were worried about having a Facebook device in the home due to the amount of data the social media giant collects. Facebook, noted Bloomberg, will still roll out the products in 2018. The developer conference is slated for May 1.

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