Facebook's new video chat device is launched amid privacy concerns

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

11 October 2018

Earlier this week, the social media giant launched Facebook Portal, a “smart display” that brings a camera and microphone right into your living room.

Portal is intended to rival Amazon’s Alexa devices, and indeed uses Alexa’s voice assistant, allowing you to speak to Portal and ask it to complete certain tasks. The larger version is called Portal Plus, and both devices are focused on video chatting over and above everything else.

Facebook accounts can by synced with Portal, and video calls made through the Messenger function. With a high-definition screen, four microphones and of course a built-in camera, Portal goes beyond what video calling has been capable of thus far, and can even zoom, pan and focus as the caller moves around the room. If it sounds like something from near-future TV shows, it’s because it’s meant to be.

Portal can be used to call anyone with Facebook or Facebook Messenger, and can stream music through Spotify or other services. But it cannot be used to access Facebook.

This is Facebook’s first foray into consumer hardware, after they shied away from breaking into the phone market so as not to anger Apple and Android, on whom they heavily rely.

However it seems like a strange time for Facebook to break into people’s homes, as it were, given that the last year has been mired by privacy and security scandals, especially around its use of user data.

Facebook spokespeople were quick to say that privacy was a primary concern for Portal. Marketing Lead Dave Kaufman said:

This is something in your living room or kitchen. There should be no surprises on it, period. You should know that you have full control over everything you’re saying.

Yet these statements will ring hollow for many, given that we’re still in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and news of Facebook’s myriad uses of user data keep coming.

Will users trust Facebook enough to let Portal into their home? With 51% of Americans earlier this year saying they didn’t trust the platform at all or didn’t trust it very much, proving that Portal cares about privacy might be an uphill struggle.

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