What happens when a strictly internet company decides to create a physical product to boost its revenue and customer reach? We will get to find out in mid-November, when Facebook’s new Portal and Portal+ smart speaker-camera combos ship out.
Facebook Portal Capabilities
Much like Amazon’s Echo Show, the Portal devices will allow you to use the built-in camera, speakers, and microphone to make video calls, primarily to your Messenger contacts. In fact, the Portal and Portal+ have Amazon’s Alexa functionality built right in for a potentially potent crossbreeding of artificial intelligence and social media technology. An added feature is the ability of the (more expensive option) Portal+ device to automatically detect action and pan to follow it in the room, allowing users to walk about while video calling. Depending on what you do during video calls, this may be a very exciting reason to consider buying a Portal. The power of the Portal to literally check out your home and family may also be the reason you decide not to sign up.
Portal Ads & You
Ads for the Portal devices say that they were “created with privacy, safety, and security in mind.” The cameras are described as having a “kill switch” button that completely disables the camera and microphone; in addition, Facebook conveniently provides a plastic cover you can snap over the lens to make extra sure no one is peeking at you. That’s great, but despite Facebook’s initial claims to the contrary, the Portal devices will indeed be capturing information from you as you use them. Facebook has now admitted that information will be provided – sold – to advertisers in order to “inform” the ads you are shown across Facebook’s platforms.
It remains to be seen what sort of consumer welcome the Portal products will receive when they are widely available. Internet privacy is becoming a more and more slippery slope, and early adopters may take the biggest risks. Hands-free technology is tempting, sure, but we may want to be a bit more careful how much control we hand over.
If you are a Facebook user, it’s a good idea to review your privacy settings from time to time. You can find basic information on just how to do that here.