Facebook debuts new video chatting device Portal amid privacy and security concerns

Pauline Obrien
October 10, 2018

"Facebook's like ... look at this cool new gadget that eavesdrops on you and does creepy stuff with the info it collects, '" tweeted Ido Kolovaty, a professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law. The former features a 10.1-inch screen with WXGA resolution and 10W speakers, while the latter features a 15.6-inch Full HD display with 20W speakers and a 4-inch bass woofer.

"Portal+ and Portal really live up to that idea of helping you feel closer and allowing you to spend more quality time with people, even if they live thousands of miles away from you", said Dave Kaufman, marketing lead for Facebook's Portal division.

Aside from acting as a smart speaker around the house and competing against similar products like Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple's HomePod, the Portal will have an extra trick up its sleeve.

Pre-orders begin today but devices are only available to customers in the U.S. Check out Facebook's Portal website for more information.

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You will need to connect Portal to a Messenger account in order to video chat with friends.

Unlike the Echo Show and Lenovo Smart Displays, which are more general-purpose devices, the Portal is centered around video chats through Facebook Messenger. As an example, if you have a Portal set up in your kitchen and are chatting with someone while you make dinner, the camera will follow you around the room as best it can so you are always viewable by whomever you're chatting with.

The 10-inch Facebook Portal. You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap, for instance, and both models come with a camera cover, so you can easily block the lens.

Billed as "private by design", the Facebook Portal vows to never listen to, view or store the contents of your video calls, keeping them secure at al times with strong encryption, while equipping the Smart Camera with "local" AI functionality and eschewing any type of facial recognition.

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Video calls conducted on a Portal are encrypted, while AI technology runs locally on the devices, not Facebook servers.

Portal also comes with Amazon Alexa built in. Facebook will even give you a cover for the camera.

The company says Facebook's privacy policy applies to Portal, since it uses Messenger for voice and video calls. Because there's no way Facebook wouldn't hook any of its products through the main features of the social network. You can delete your Portal's voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

Portal, and a larger 15-inch Portal+ model, is billed by Facebook has a smart home device created to let users make calls to friends and family.

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Portal is powered by an AI camera that "stays with the action" and automatically zooms to keep people in the frame. By shipping the Portal with Alexa, Facebook might be proactively avoiding a controversy about data collection. You can start a video call simply by saying "Hey Portal" and noting who you'd like to call. Facebook claims that the audio is rich and should comfortably fill an average room. There are apps for Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and the Newsy news service. By purposefully excluding many features, the Portal becomes purely a music-playing and video-chatting device.

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