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Facebook Tries its Hand at a Home Smart Device

3 MINUTE READ | October 17, 2018

Facebook Tries its Hand at a Home Smart Device

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Ting Zheng

Ting Zheng has written this article. More details coming soon.

Facebook recently joined other tech giants like Google and Amazon in entering the home smart device market. On October 8th, Facebook dropped the big news on its site and announced its latest product creation: Portal and Portal+.

Both Portal and Portal+ are equipped with a large screen display and an AI-powered camera that can automatically track movements to ultimately allow for seamless communication through video calls. The camera also incorporates AR effects to provide fun interactions for users. Other features include the obvious ability to integrate with Facebook and Messenger in order to ensure you can connect with your already existing network of friends and family as well as the ability to control the device through your voice with Amazon’s Alexa built-in.

Image via Facebook newsroom

Lastly, Facebook partnered with a handful of brands like Spotify, Pandora, and Newsy to provide other sources of entertainment (hopefully this list of partners will continue to grow). And well, that pretty much sums it all up — there are not any huge features that distinguish the product from the rest, but it’s definitely an interesting new play from Facebook.

Now, how about privacy and security?

Clearly, it’s been a rough year for Facebook. First, there was Cambridge Analytica where 97 million users had their personal data breached and Mark Zuckerberg himself had to testify in front of Congress. Then, another data hack that affected another 29 million users where the hackers were able to scrape personal profile information like bios, addresses, and even search histories. All this begs the question of how open the public will be into letting these new home device products live in their home? And, how is Facebook approaching these serious matters?

The good news is that Facebook is tackling this issue head-on. Privacy is one of the listed features touted as the devices’ product messaging states: “Private by design.” The company explicitly listed on its site that Facebook will not listen to or record any video calls and that the calls are completely encrypted. Facebook also explained the AI technology powering the camera will not use facial recognition and the voice commands are only triggered after saying “Hey Portal”. Some of the other privacy controls include:

  • The ability to disable the camera and microphone with one tap

  • The ability to fully block the lens with a physical camera cover

  • The ability to limit access to the device, as you can set a digital passcode.

Overall, these types of controls, in turn, affect the fullest capabilities of Portal, however, with all eyes on Facebook, it makes sense for the company to provide this type of power for a user.

But, what about the ads?

As Portal is slowly rolled out, advertising is not part of its initial launch but partners like Spotify are allowed to embed their ads within the services provided via Portal devices.

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While no one knows for sure, this does seem like an opportunity to be another ad placement and a new revenue generator down the line. Yet, this must be a careful next move as Facebook has to change the perception and concern over its privacy measures. Until then, we’re keeping an eye on the Facebook newsroom and will post updates here if anything changes.

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