Facebook unveils Portal: Spy tool or next-gen communications platform?

The Portal and Portal+ will track our movements in real-time and listen for audio cues.

It’s almost like Facebook has no sense of shame or irony. Even as it grapples with allegations of unprecedented levels of privacy violations, sells our phone numbers to advertisers and demonstrates its inability to ensure data securityFacebook announces a device that not only features a camera and a microphone but one that it expects us to voluntarily place in our own homes. Has Facebook gone mad or is it just truly and utterly tone-deaf?

The Portal and Portal+ are devices that will track our movements in real-time, listen for audio cues and feature voice-enhancing microphones. All this hardware is intricately tied to Facebook’s services and may or may not plague us with ads. It sounds very appealing, Facebook. It truly does.

 

Portal features a 4-mic array with 360-degree input, a 12 MP camera with 8x zoom and a 140-degree field of view, a 10.1-inch screen at a resolution of 720p and 2 full-range drivers delivering 10 W of sound.

The Portal+ has the same mic and camera array but also features a rotating 15.6-inch display with a 1080p resolution and a combination of two tweeters and a single 4-inch woofer for 20 W of sound.

Portal measures 9.8-inches by 8.2-inches while Portal+ measures 8.8-inches by 17.7-inches.

Both devices feature support for Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Dual Band MIMO and Bluetooth 4.2.

Do you really trust Facebook to safely handle your privacy?

Do you still trust Facebook with your privacy? Image: Facebook, Reuters

When you’re not using the devices to make calls over Facebook’s networks using Facebook-owned services, Portal will display your photos and videos, show you when your “closest contacts” are available and send you birthday reminders. Facebook is lumping these features into a something that it’s calling “Superframe.”

Facebook claims that the devices are “private by design”, and even goes to the trouble of including a privacy cover for the webcam. As with Amazon’s Echo devices, there’s a button for disabling the microphone and camera. There’s a pin-protected screen lock function and a “Home and away” mode where it’ll track you via your phone and route calls depending on whether you’re at home or away.

Facebook also promises that the conversations between you and whoever you’re calling remain private, that voice commands are only sent after using the keyword (“Hey Portal”) and that the smart camera features run locally on the device and not on Facebook’s servers. The system apparently has no facial recognition technology.

Given Facebook’s track record, however, the last thing I’d want is to give Facebook is a Portal into my home.

via GIPHY

If for some reason, you do want one, the Portal and Portal+ can be had for $199 and $349 respectively. You can also save $100 by picking up 2 Portals for $298 (You'd want someone other than Zuckerberg to talk to, right?). Facebook also offers a 30-day return policy and 1-year limited warranty.

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