Facebook has marked its introduction to the smart hub arena with its Portal and Portal+ products. The devices, paired with smart cameras, launched in the US and are powered by Facebook’s artificial intelligence aimed at making bringing people together and making video calling easier. However, with the various privacy concerns surrounding Facebook, do you really want a camera powered by the same company placed in your home?
Portal looks to hook into your existing Facebook connections and make it easier to communicate through video calling. The device has a wide-angle camera aimed at identifying your whole body and then tracking you as you move around the room. As it is a smart hub and will be positioned on a table or similar, it makes for more comfortable communication than holding a smartphone for example. Facebook says that Portal is aimed at creating the environment during video calling that you’re all sharing the same room and even refers to the experience as augmented reality. The benefit of Portal is that there is no framing. When the video call begins, the camera will zoom and focus on your face making the conversation seem more natural.
Aside from making video calls, the device can play music through Pandora or Spotify and Amazon Alexa is integrated into the hardware so there’s that. Otherwise, the $200 or $350 product doesn’t do a whole lot more, at least that the user can see.
Earlier this year, Facebook was at from and center of the media with its data privacy breach that saw Cambridge Analytical leverage 87 million users’ data. The issue actually brought Mark Zuckerberg in front of Congress to explain how something like that could even happen. Fast forward a few months and Facebook confessed to the extent of the Russian influence in the 2016 US elections admitting to removing 200 accounts associated with a Russian organization. If that wasn’t enough, Facebook also has hit the headlines again when it confessed to over 50 million users fell foul of a “View Profile As” exploit that saw more users impacted.
With all this in consideration, where a company is clearing not disclosing firstly what it is doing with your data and secondly what Facebook is doing with your data, do you really feel comfortable placing a camera that has AI capabilities to identify a human shape to the point it can track people across a room made by the same company?
Facebook claims the device only sends a users voice recordings to the server after recognizing the hot word “Hey Portal”. However, in order to identify the hot word is being said, Portal would need to listen to all conversations.
That considered, how long are we away before we see a data compromise centered around Portal?