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Facebook Announces New Video Chatting Device That Follows Your Every Move

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Facebook is introducing a new product that will bring a camera and microphone into your living room. Facebook Portal, and the larger Portal Plus, are both smart displays that are laser-focused on video chatting.

“Today we’re excited to introduce to everyone. Come say hi and check out to learn more.”

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They are essentially smart speakers with touchscreens that include a few unique features. One of the more freaky features Facebook Portal offers is a user detection system that will cinematically zoom in on a person’s face and has the ability to follow them as they move around a room. The entire idea behind the device is to make it feel as if the users are actually hanging out together.

Portals can be used to call other Portal users, or anyone who has Facebook or Facebook Messenger. The Portals are able to play music as well, via Pandora and Spotify, or stream video from Facebook Watch.

The smaller Portal resembles Amazon’s Echo Show, while the larger version (Portal Plus) looks more like a tablet – standing out wherever you put it – making the living room a prime location.

With Portal, you don’t have to hold the device, let alone try to aim it. When the chat begins, the device’s camera automatically searches for faces in the room and will continue to keep them in the frame during the call/chat. If only one person is in the room, the camera zooms in to focus on their face. Facebook’s claim is this feature makes video chatting more natural, with users talking and not having to worry about camera angles.

Considering Facebook is still trying to recover from issues stemming from the Cambridge Analytica database scandal, as well as a massive hack that compromised 50+ million users, this seems like a rather bold move.

Facebook says Portal is designed with privacy and security in mind:

– You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap. 
– Portal and Portal+ also come with a camera cover, so you can easily block your camera’s lens at any time and still receive incoming calls and notifications, plus use voice commands. 
– To manage Portal access within your home, you can set a four- to 12-digit passcode to keep the screen locked. Changing the passcode requires your Facebook password. 
– Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure. 
– For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are. 
– Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, “Hey Portal.” You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

Portal’s original launch date was delayed in hopes it would be able to escape the long shadow of the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal.

Facebook’s Portal team state that both of the devices come with a camera cover, and that they both have a button that completely turns off the camera and the mic. Facebook claims that this doesn’t just deactivate the camera and mic, but physically cuts the circuit to prevent any attempts to hack the devices.

“Those electronics are not accessible from the software, so you have to be physically on the device to connect it back again,” says Rafa Camargo, vice president of the Portal hardware team.

No matter how wonderful this new device for video chatting may be, the “Scarlet Letter” associated with the Facebook name is a tough one to get around.

Many options on the device are opt-in, including a feature that lets other Portals see when you are actively using the device and are presumably more open to chatting. “We made certain choices that even now our trial users are saying ‘I want it,’” Camargo says. “But we made a choice not to offer certain things just to make sure people understood the focus on privacy on the device.”

Twitter users have weighed in on Facebook’s video promo and seem less than thrilled:

Twitter user, Justin Ordway, (@ordwayjm) responds with the majority of consumer’s concerns for privacy when it comes to all things Facebook:

“Ah yes, I definitely want a company that routinely has data breaches to install a camera in my house.”

One Twitter user, Gavin C (@CassidyGavin), quoted Orwell’s 1984: “‘The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat… The instrument… could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely'”

Another Twitter user, Chakib Tsouli, pointed out that the name for the device was quite ironic, (@tsoulichakib) responded, “A portal to your home. How conveniently named.”

 

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