Today Facebook announced their new Portal smart video calling device, complete with Alexa built-in, to help reinvent video chatting… but with their privacy track record, is this something you want?
On the face of it, having a really simple way for Facebook-loving grandmothers to quickly see their grandchildren makes a lot of sense. Facebook is about connecting people, after all. It’s a revolutionary way for relatives to keep in touch with family members they can’t see on a regular basis. My own grandmother checks Facebook every single day to see how the kids are growing.
The new Portal smart camera lets you connect over Messenger, share content, show photos and notifications. The video calling looks impressive—you can move around the room while you are talking and the camera will follow you. They also have integrations with Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Food Network, and a lot more stuff coming soon, so you can watch and listen to music or videos on the big huge screen.
It also has privacy features—you can disable the camera and microphone with a tap, just like Amazon’s Echo devices let you—and it comes with an integrated camera cover, which is something we actually recommend. Facebook claims that they don’t record the contents of your calls, and just like any other smart speaker, it only actually listens to you when you say “Hey Portal”, to trigger Facebook features, or “Alexa”, for smarthome and other features.
If you put it all together and just look at the features, it can easily compete with any other smart display on the market. It starts at $199 for a 10” display and goes up to $349 with a huge 15.6” display for the Portal+ model. It looks like a really great way to video chat in very high quality on a screen that your older relatives can actually see.
But didn’t Facebook just get hacked? What about their privacy problems? And how many people are going to make jokes about Facebook opening a portal to… somewhere?
Would You Trust Facebook Enough to Put a Smart Device in Your House?
Facebook just had to admit that they got hacked, and 50 million people’s profiles were probably accessed. They were forced to log out 90 million people to resolve the problem.
And of course, that comes right after we found out that Facebook is using your phone number to target you with ads—and there’s absolutely no way for you to opt out of that part, even if you want to.
People already think that Facebook is listening to them through their microphone, and they are unhappy with the ads that follow them around the internet. And while Facebook might not be actually listening to your microphone, they are tracking you in shocking ways, like tracking your phone’s location, building a shadow profile on you, or scanning other people’s photos for your face. And then there was the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal.
So are you really going to trust Facebook, a company that doesn’t have a great track record, and put a smart device from them in your house?
The only company I’d trust with a smart speaker is Apple.
Because they care about privacy.
….But mostly because Siri is too dumb to listen in on my conversations anyway.
— Lowell Heddings (@LowellHeddings) October 8, 2018