Facebook wants you to invite its cameras into your homes, pledges privacy

Delia Walker
October 9, 2018

Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls.

The Portal has a 10-inch 1280 x 800 pixel display and looks quite similar to the Amazon Echo Show in form factor, while its bigger sibling has a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel display that can pivot on its base. Facebook is pitching it as a device that will make Messenger video calls easier and "more like hanging out".

Created to rival the Amazon Echo Show, the Portal will retail for $199 (around £150 / AU$280), whereas the larger model, the Portal+, will cost $349 (£270 / AU$495), with Facebook's current deal of $100 off any two devices meaning you can get both for $298 if you're a U.S. customer.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 74 percent of Facebook members in the USA have in the a year ago taken a break, deleted the app from their phone or adjusted their privacy settings.

Facebook's Andrew Bosworth spoke to the BBC, and admitted that there will be concerns from would-be users about the devices: "We understand that inviting a camera and microphone into your home is the kind of thing that will give a consumer pause, especially for a new category of products around video calling that haven't been really common for consumers to have access to". The former automatically pans and zooms to ensure that everyone is in view in a video cal, while the latter minimizes background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking. Portal connects calls through Facebook's Messenger app, meaning that it can connect calls with people who aren't using Portal.

Along with video chatting through Facebook Messenger, both Portal devices have built-in Amazon Alexa. It doesn't use facial recognition, it doesn't record your calls, it doesn't run on Facebook servers, and it comes with a cover you can slide over the camera, Facebook says.

Security is a sensitive issue for Facebook which had 50 million of its user accounts breached by hackers at the end of last month in the latest privacy embarrassment.

They said Portal is available at Amazon and Best Buy stores in addition to Facebook.com and starts shipping to US customers in early November.

Facebook is also including features like Smart Call and Smart Sound. Google's smart displays make video calls using the company's Duo chat app. You can bring Portal home for $199 Dollars and Portal+ for $349 USD. The device only sends voice commands to Facebook's servers after the words "Hey, Portal" are said, according to Camargo.

You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap.

The devices are now available for pre-order only in the United States, and will ship in November.

The Portal and Portal+ will take on Amazon's Echo Show and Google's upcoming Home Hub smart display. There's also a news service called Newsy that will help you stay up to date. Facebook is about connecting people, after all. However, putting history aside, Facebook chose to launch their first Facebook-branded piece of hardware today, the Portal.

The speaker comes integrated with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant technology, which provides an always-listening service for initiating these calls amid other functions like setting reminders and ordering groceries.

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