Facepalm: In October of last year, Facebook launched its Portal and Portal+ smart displays. Reviewers haven’t been overly impressed with the devices, and questions over the way they collect user data hasn’t endeared them to the public. But it seems some of the social network’s employees are big fans—they even left five-star reviews on Amazon.
It was New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose who noticed something was amiss, pointing out on Twitter that three verified reviewers from the Portal’s Amazon listing had the same names as Facebook workers.
Speaking of coordinated inauthentic behavior, what are the odds that all these 5-star Facebook Portal reviewers on Amazon just happen to have the same names as Facebook employees? pic.twitter.com/bF7U8Fj5kN— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) 17 January 2019
The ‘verified’ designation confirms a person did buy a product at Amazon, and it’s possible that the Facebook employees bought the Portals and loved them so much they felt compelled to leave glowing reviews. But as Roose points out, Amazon prohibits posting content regarding your employer’s products or services.
Replying to Roose’s tweet, Facebook executive Andrew “Boz” Bosworth appeared to confirm that the reviewers were from Facebook, though he says they were “neither coordinated nor directed from the company.”
neither coordinated nor directed from the company. From an internal post at the launch: “We, unequivocally, DO NOT want Facebook employees to engage in leaving reviews for the products that we sell to Amazon.” We will ask them to take down.— Boz (@boztank) 17 January 2019
“We, unequivocally, DO NOT want Facebook employees to engage in leaving reviews for the products that we sell to Amazon.” We will ask them to take down,” he added.
One of the most interesting reviews comes from Tim Chappell, which is also the name of Facebook's head of supply chain and strategic sourcing for AR and VR products. He writes that he’s “historically not been a big Facebook or other social media user,” but “took a chance and got 4 Portals and 1 Portal plus for the family.” Chappell adds that they’re "having a blast video calling and hanging out for several hours at at [sic] time."
Soon after it launched, Facebook admitted that the Portal could collect user data for ad targeting. Amazon classifies them as “input devices,” a category where the Portal's its 33rd highest seller, sitting just below the MEKO Universal stylus pen. That probably won't please Facebook, but it's doing better than the Portal+, which is in 235th position.