Facebook swears its Portal video chat device won’t violate your privacy

Facebook could put a camera in your home with video calling Portal device

Facebook is out with its first hardware products: the Portal and Portal+ - Smart Displays meant to live in your living room or kitchen which are primarily meant for doing video calls. The smaller of the two options, the Portal, offers a 10-inch display, while the Portal+ jumps up to a 15-inch display that can pivot between portrait and landscape modes.

Facebook is mostly marketing Portal devices as communication tools to talk with family and friends by video. Thanks to Alexa from Amazon, you can initiate video calls simply by using your voice, plus a suite of AI tech makes your experience more rich.

The new video call devices are powered by AI, with Facebook's "Smart Camera" technology created to follow you as you move around the room and zoom in to the action, meaning you can continue chatting over video while doing chores, cooking in the kitchen, or looking for something in your room. The two devices are priced at $199 and $349 respectively and are available from Facebook, Amazon, and Best Buy.

According to Facebook you can either disable the camera and microphone with a single touch, or disable the camera with a built-in cover, while still allowing you to take incoming calls and notifications and use voice commands. The screen can be locked behind a passcode, and you'll need to log into your own Facebook account if you want to change it. In a statement that highlights that Facebook knows it has work to do to gain the trust of consumers, the company said that the kill switch physically cuts the circuit to this camera and mic, rather than just turning them off, in order to prevent hacking attempts. It integrates with Facebook Messenger and features voice controls: "Hey, Portal". Facebook also says that cameras in the Portal and Portal+ come with a cover that should give an assurance to people that Facebook is not watching their moves. Portal connects calls through Facebook's Messenger app, meaning that it can connect calls with people who aren't using Portal.

Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, "Hey Portal". What do you think about Facebook's first hardware products? Amazon's Echo Show can make video Drop-In calls as well as video calls through the Alexa app. Amazon will be adding support for Skype video chatting in the future, too.

If you put it all together and just look at the features, it can easily compete with any other smart display on the market.

The device has an emphasis on video conferencing and comes in two versions - the Portal and Portal+.

Facebook has also built technology to ensure that the webcam can track and pan around the room, keeping the caller in-frame without requiring them to sit or stand in one position, or constantly readjust the device. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 74 percent of Facebook members in the USA have in the previous year taken a break, deleted the app from their phone or adjusted their privacy settings. Facebook said it doesn't "listen to, view, or keep the contents of" Portal video calls and that all video calls are encrypted as well.

There are only a handful of third-party partners, so far, including Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Newsy, Food Network and Amazon Alexa.

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