Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Facebook Portal smart screen to launch amid concerns over privacy

Facebook's new Portal device Save Save Facebook's Portal camera device
Sherri Watson | 09 October, 2018, 05:09

Facebook wants its users to buy a new video chat device for their homes, complete with cameras that track movement.

Both speakers feature large displays and cameras to facilitate video calling and other communication functionality.

Facebook has unveiled the company's first ever hardware product - a video calling device called Portal.

"Both models are created to help you feel closer to the important people in your life and make video chats feel less like a call, and more like you're actually in the same room", Facebook said in a blog post. The larger Portal+ has an HD 15.6-inch screen that can swivel between vertical and horizontal views.

Both devices are available for preorder online in the U.S. through Facebook ($FB), Amazon ($AMZN), and Best Buy ($BBY).

Portal runs on the open-source version of Google's Android mobile operating system, similar to many Amazon devices. It also shows that when it comes to using its services to collect data, Facebook's policy is "if we can't have it, no one can". For those concerned about privacy, both Portals have a button that mutes their mics, as well as a physical cover for the camera.

One cool feature of the new Portal devices is that they enable shared activities; so, for example, you can listen to music or watch TV shows with the person you're calling, with Facebook teaming up with Spotify, Pandora, Food Network, and more.

It does seem theoretically possible to turn the smaller Portal on its side to achieve a portrait mode view, but until we get some hands-on time with the device we don't know if that's an available option.

Facebook says it won't store Portal video on its data centers. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure, ' the company said in the blog post announcing the device. Both models come with screens and cameras, as Facebook wants customers to use them for video calls. That means you can easily start a video call within Facebook Messenger, or you can watch the various content on Facebook's own video streaming service, Facebook Watch.

Facebook is hoping Portal and Portal Plus will be on people's holiday gift-giving lists. If you still don't trust that it also has a built-in cover to stop the camera from spying on you, though that doesn't prevent it from listening to what you're doing - and taking voice commands.

And it also comes bundled with Amazon´s voice interface "Alexa", enabling users to shop or control household appliances. The device only sends voice commands to Facebook's servers after the words "Hey, Portal" are said, according to Camargo.

Although Facebook acquired virtual reality headset manufacturer Oculus in 2014, this is the first time it has developed a consumer hardware product in-house. Portal costs $199 and Portal+ is $349.

Conspiracy theories aside, it's good to see that there's a department in Facebook that's putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to user data protection... but the way the Portal is built can also be perceived as an extremely limiting experience too.

Facebook servers are only contacted when you say "Hey Portal". If you buy two devices together you'll also get a $100 discount.