Facebook Unveils Smart Speaker With Camera Amid Privacy Concerns

Posted October 13, 2018

Facebook is launching the first electronic device to bear its brand, a screen and camera-equipped gadget meant to make video calls easier and more intuitive.

Facebook unveiled Portal, which comes with a 10-inch 1,280 x 800 touchscreen, as a smart speaker that is focused on enabling video calling among friends and family.

Facebook has launched a couple of new smart devices which enable AI-powered video calling in your home.

The two products, Portal and Portal+, allows users to make and receive video calls using the Facebook Messenger service or Facebook.

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Portal's camera, which uses artificial intelligence to recognise body shapes, is a major marketing point, offering users the convenience of staying in the frame without having to adjust the device.

Like Alexa and Home, Facebook's devices will offer a voice-activated system triggered by a "Hey Portal" instruction giving accesses to informations like sports scores, weather reports and grocery shopping along with controlling smart home devices.

They said Portal is available at Amazon and Best Buy stores in addition to Facebook.com and starts shipping to USA customers in early November.

Portal could help Facebook stop users from flocking to rival chat and video apps on other speakers and give it a new, wholly controlled environment to sell ads. And to start the call, all it takes is: "Hey Portal".

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You can call Facebook friends and connections on Messenger even if they don't have Portal. The Smart Camera "automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view", and the Smart Sound "minimizes background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking, no matter where they move". Those Instagram and Snapchat face filters will also come to the big screen here via Facebook's Spark AR platform, so you can chat with people while sporting a cartoon face, if you prefer.

The marketing opportunities for Facebook's Portal are unclear, given that the devices now don't have ads, but the company notes that advertisers can reach Portal users with ad inserts in third-party video programming, per Facebook's Portal privacy page.

Portal marks Facebook's foray into the smart speakers segment, taking on other tech giants like Amazon, Google and Apple. Furthermore, Facebook Portal users can also deactivate the device's camera and microphone by pressing a button on the device.

Their fears were compounded when Facebook revealed another security breach in late September, when hackers were able to enter its computer network, exposing the personal information of almost 50 million users. It could signal that Facebook may feel it is too far behind the leaders to try rolling its own assistant out - at least for the time being. But Mr. Bosworth assured users that Portal is fully encrypted and won't allow even Facebook to "listen, record or stall" any of its content.

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