Facebook Draws Privacy Skepticism After Launching Multi-Purpose Smart Screens

For a company trying to win back the public trust, the timing seems a bit odd to launch a device that listens to and watches people in their own home.

Facebook has finally launched its own hardware product – and not everyone is thrilled about it as the social media giant might have hoped.

The new product, “Portal” is an in-home video-based chatting smart speaker from Facebook. Similar to Google Echo and Amazon Alexa, it activates with a “Hey Portal” voice command. The smart speakers work by syncing with the Facebook Messenger accounts of a user, to enable seamless video chatting.

“Portal uses an AI-powered Smart Camera and Smart Sound technology to focus on whoever’s talking even across a room,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, in a status update. “It’s hands-free, voice-controlled and has Amazon Alexa built in. You can use it to call anyone on Facebook Messenger so you can connect with friends and family even if they don’t have Portal. It has a nice big screen — there’s a 10″ version and a 15″ version” — so it’s great for feeling like you’re right there with someone.”

Today we're announcing Portal — a new kind of device that makes video calling feel a lot more like hanging out.Portal…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, October 8, 2018

The post goes on to claim that privacy will be built into it, a claim Facebook has parroted many times in the past and failed to deliver. Available in both 10 and 15-inch models, the in-home device that listens to and watches its users with the voice-activated command prompt has drawn industry skepticism.

With thousands of users already convinced that the Facebook app is listening to conversations, based on creepy and accurate targeting, the hardware play hasn’t been well received by the media. To nullify privacy concerns, Facebook offered users a lens cap to act as a kill switch for the front-facing camera and encryption of video calls.

The long-term play is that Portal is supposed to replace the phone as a conversation device, so when a call comes in, the smart home device rings and not a users phone. Since users of the Facebook app signed away tracking rights, the Facebook ecosystem knows when its users are home.

For a company trying to win back the public trust, the timing is odd to launch a device that listens to and watches people in their own home.

Babar Khan Javed
Babar Khan Javed
A graduate of IMD Business School, Babar Khan Javed is the former Technology Editor for Campaign Asia-Pacific at the Haymarket Media Group in Singapore. His work covers the consulting, adtech, IoT, and blockchain industry. Prior to journalism, he spent over ten years leading digital transformation projects for CPG, higher education, fashion, and luxury brands. He can be reached on www.babarkhanjaved.com

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