Social media giant Facebook has introduced its first hardware product for the smart home market – Portal, a voice-controlled device for video chats at home with Alexa built-in.
Portal lets users call a friend via Facebook Messenger using their voices. By saying “Hey Portal, call John,” the device will do the video call for users.
During the video call, Portal’s 140-degree, 12-megapixel smart lens will automatically zoom in and focus on the user’s face so it will stay in the center wherever they move in the house.
Since Facebook’s self-made voice-control interface can’t support many applications, Portal has Amazon Alexa built-in, allowing users to ask about the weather, traffic and to give home automation orders. The company didn’t say whether the screen will present visual information when users talk to Alexa. Facebook said it may integrate Google Assistant into Portal.
There are other native applications built-in, including Spotify, iHeartRadio, the Food Network, Newsy and Facebook Watch, the social media’s original content streaming service. When the device isn’t used for other functions, it can function like a smart picture frame and display pictures from user’s Facebook feed. It will also notify users when a Facebook friend has birthday on that day.
Facebook = Privacy Concerns?
Just two weeks ago, Facebook acknowledged a security breach which affected 50 million users due to bugs in the “View As” feature. At the beginning of this year, the company suffered from the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, which caused a UK company to use data of 87 million people during the U.S. 2016 election.
Facebook isn’t known for protecting user’s privacy. How can its more than 2 billion users trust the company and purchase the device, that sits 24/7, listens and watches all things happening at home?
“For people who have chosen not to have one of these devices in their homes, often it’s because of a lack of trust or understanding in the way that microphone-enabled devices work,” Stacey Gray, policy counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum, told CNET.
First of all, Portal’s artificial intelligence runs on the device, not on Facebook’s servers. Its camera doesn’t recognize user’s face; rather, it uses technology called 2D pose to track position so that the camera follows around.
It doesn’t record voice data, either. Videos calls are encrypted and Facebook will only gather data such as call time and duration. Amazon, on the other side, does keep voice data for a short period of time.
If users have concern, they may tap on the top of the device to switch off their microphones and cameras. A plastic camera cap is also included, to further ensure no video will be recorded.
There are two models for Portal – the 10.1-inch smart display Portal costs US$199 and the 15.6-inch Portal Plus, which supports landscape and portrait display, costs US$349. They will start shipping this November in the U.S..