As if the blatant censorship and violation of privacy weren’t bad enough, Facebook seeks to ramp up their presence in your life by putting a camera in your home. Facebook is releasing its own eerie smart speaker with a screen and a camera.
The social media giant also really hopes you don’t find the Portal they are creating creepy. According to CNN, the Portal, and the larger Portal +, is built specifically for video calls. The new device is essentially a smart speaker with a touchscreen that includes a couple of unique features. Among them is a user detection system that will cinematically zoom in on a person’s face or follow them as they move around a room. The idea behind the device is to make video chats more like actually hanging out together.
But many are creeped out by this idea instead, and rightly so after Facebook’s many indiscretions, including the censorship of non-leftist ideas. Others are concerned that it’s too bold of a move for a company besieged by privacy issues stemming from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and a massive hack that may have compromised 50 million users. Taking those concerns head-on, Facebook’s VP of hardware Rafa Camargo told CNN Business that privacy was built into “every layer” during a demo of the new devices.
On top of each device is a plastic cover that can slide over the camera. It’s an official version of a common DIY security tactic — practiced by Mark Zuckerberg — of putting tape over a laptop’s camera. A mute button cuts power to the microphone and Facebook says the encrypted video streams are not recorded anywhere. Facebook Live, the company’s tool for broadcasting video, is not even an option on a Portal. –CNN
Consumers who already use devices such as Google Assistant or Amazon Echo (Alexa’s voice) are already getting themselves comfortable with devices such as Facebook’s Portal being in their homes. Facebook’s Portal devices are similar to other smart screens on the market. The smaller of the pair, the $199 Portal with a 10-inch screen, looks extremely similar to the Echo Show and third-party Google Assistant smart screens. The larger $349 device is a 15-inch rotating screen on a bulky mount with a camera on top.
The Portal is also very similar to Amazon’s Echo. In fact, Facebook is actually outsourcing all voice-assistant work unrelated to video calling. The Portal uses Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to handle the usual tasks like playing music and controlling connected devices. A Portal has 4-microphones that are always listening for trigger phrases, and Facebook says it is open to adding support for other assistants in the future.
You can say to the Portal, “Hey Portal, call Seth” to start a video call. But Portal’s voice interface isn’t a full smart assistant. It’s a very limited voice tool just for “device control.” The device must be logged into Facebook messenger in order to make video calls.
Portal is available for pre-order from Facebook, Amazon and Best Buy, and will ship in November. If you buy any two Portals, you get a $100 discount.
How about you? Do you trust Facebook enough to have one of their listening and camera devices in your home?