Published: Wed, October 10, 2018
IT | By Emmett Cole

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

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

Portal devices are also created to hook up through Facebook Messenger, so you can call people via the social network - even if they didn't buy one of these devices themselves.

On Monday, Twitter users were quick to point to Facebook's privacy fallacies and what they saw as the company's impudence in asking people to trust it with a camera called Portal inside their homes.

Facebook Inc on Monday released a smart speaker created to ease video calls, but the company's history of privacy mishaps and the device's price and limited functionality could slow it from taking on market leaders Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google.

Facebook has just announced that its long-awaited video chat devices Portal and Portal+ are now available to preorder in the USA, with shipping due to commence in November.

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

The device is controlled via voice commands, users can start a video call with a Facebook friend by saying "Hey Portal, call ..." followed by the name of the Facebook contact they wish to talk to. However, putting history aside, Facebook chose to launch their first Facebook-branded piece of hardware today, the Portal. There's also a physical camera cover provided with each Portal and Portal+ unit, as well as a button allowing you to "completely" disable the camera and microphone. The AI used in the Smart Camera and Smart Sounds technology runs locally on Portal devices rather than on Facebook servers, and only commands stated after "Hey Portal" are sent to Facebook's servers. Facebook is also providing users with the option to set a 4 to 12-digit passcode for Portal before anyone can use it. While the built-in camera can track users around the room, Facebook says the camera does not use face recognition, and the AI that handles the tracking lives on the device instead of on Facebook's servers.

Although Amazon isn't listed as a music partner, Facebook's "Portal" devices do have Amazon Alexa built in. "We want to remove people from feeling that they are on a call - to the feeling of just being together", says Rafa Camargo, a Facebook vice president overseeing the product. You can't browse Facebook or Instagram on it, or even visit the web (you also can't watch video content on it via Youtube).

Hardware wise, there really isn't a lot to see here apart from the huge 15-.6-inch display on the Portal+. Portal features a 10-inch display and costs $199, while Portal+ features a larger 15-inch pivoting display and costs $349. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted.

The smaller Portal is an Amazon Echo Show style device, which is basically a giant display with a speaker.

Scrutiny this year over Facebook's privacy and content moderation practices have led some people to abandon the service and the company to warn of thinning profits.

Earlier this year, Facebook had to acknowledge that as many as 87 million people may have had their data accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm that worked for the Trump campaign and aimed to use the data to influence elections.

The device includes what Facebook calls Smart Camera and Smart Sound technology, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically pan and zoom the camera to keep everyone speaking in view, while Smart Sound minimises background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is speaking to improve call quality.

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