Facebook exec answers questions on privacy as Portal goes on sale—but reviews say it fails its users

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

08 November 2018

Since Facebook announced Portal, their “smart display” device that brings a camera and microphone right into your living room, the discussion around the device has been plagued with questions about privacy and how much consumers will really trust Facebook to have such a product in their home.

With 51% of Americans earlier this year saying they didn’t trust Facebook at all or didn’t trust it very much, it was going to take more than an advertising push to convince the buying public that Portal was a good idea.

To that end, Facebook have attempted to gain consumer trust by answering privacy questions head on.

Bloomberg interviewed Facebook’s vice president of consumer hardware, Andrew Bosworth, and put to him some of the questions that privacy advocates have been asking, including whether Portal with record owners when they’re not using it and what sort of information the company is collecting. On the first question, Bosworth was strong—but did not rule out future changes:

The device doesn’t even have the functionality to record. If you wanted to do a Facebook Live from the device or ask what your cat did when you were gone, we don’t actually have that functionality today. We may over time.

Video chats via Portal are encrypted, which means in theory that the company cannot see the content of those calls. The camera on Portal can also be turned off, but the company has conceded that this may not be enough for people—and has added a plastic cover for the camera as an attempt to satisfy user concerns.

The device went on sale on Thursday this week, and the first response of some reviewers was that Portal was not useful or necessary enough to justify the privacy intrusion that its precense creates.

The Verge reported that much was asked of the Portal consumer with little in return, in terms of privacy:

Facebook is saying all the right things about privacy, but I’m not sure that will be enough to convince the skeptics. There’s already been mixed messaging from Facebook on whether it will be able to use data from the Portal for advertising purposes, so people are right to be skeptical.

Beyond that, unless you are a heavy user of Facebook’s Messenger calling, the Portal doesn’t currently do enough to justify its existence.

In a year where Facebook’s data collecting has come under great scrutiny, it seems unlikely that a signficant portion of users would welcome Portal into their home—but the market may yet surprise us.

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