Facebook smart speakers may come to international markets first, will include 'M' smart assistant

  • Facebook is considering launching its smart speakers internationally first to avoid U.S. public scrutiny of data privacy issues, sources say.
  • The two speakers will include a voice assistant based on the same underlying technology that powered its "M" chatbot, which was discontinued in January.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on May 1, 2018 in San Jose, California.
Getty Images
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on May 1, 2018 in San Jose, California.

Facebook is mulling a plan to sell its upcoming smart speakers internationally before launching them in the U.S., as American users and politicians have increased their focus on Facebook and user privacy, according to two people who have had discussions with the company about the devices.

The two devices, which Facebook had intended on announcing at its F8 Developer Conference on Tuesday, are the company's answer to Amazon's Echo and Alphabet's Google Home products. The speakers, one of which will come with a camera and a touch screen, will connect directly to Facebook Messenger to make chatting with friends and family through the service much easier.

The devices will also come equipped with a smart voice assistant that's tied to Facebook's artificial intelligence program, M.

Among other uses, M previously powered a personal assistant chatbot on Messenger, but Facebook shut that incarnation down in January.

The M program was not completely shut down, however. Multiple sources say Facebook will now be taking the program and developing it into a voice assistant, complete with voice commands. Facebook has previously worked on speech recognition systems.

On Tuesday at F8, Facebook announced M Translations, a Messenger and Marketplace feature that translates foreign languages into a Messenger user's default language. Having a translation feature would be necessary for an international rollout.

The company has played around with calling the assistant by some name that begins with the letter "M," multiple sources said. One source noted a potential name was "Marvin."

Bad messaging

Facebook delayed the announcement of the speakers because of recent public scrutiny over how personal information is collected and used by Facebook and its partners.

After news that political research firm Cambridge Analytica was able to gain access to unauthorized user data through the guise of a personality quiz, Facebook found itself in hot water. CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in Congress over data privacy issues in April, and the company has made several moves to allow users to control which companies have access to their data.

Having a smart speaker potentially listening to what customers say at home could have drawn new attention to the user data issue.

An international rollout could also help Facebook make a bigger splash in markets where competitors are weaker. Many marketers said Facebook's foray seemed a little too late considering that Amazon and Google's smart speakers already have a robust ecosystem of apps. In October, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a press release that the company had sold "tens of millions" of Alexa-enabled devices.

Facebook declined comment on this story.