Rumored and leaked for month, Facebook finally made its Portal dedicated tabletop video chat device official. Available in 10- (Portal) and 15-inch (Portal +) screen versions, the device is the social media giant’s entry into the smart display space already being pioneered by Google, Lenovo, Amazon, and others. The release comes at an awkward time for Facebook, what with last week’s revelation that 50 million users accounts had been accessed due to a bug in its code, not to mention last year’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal involving the data of more than 80 million users. As such, Facebook has taken great pains to emphasize privacy features in the Portal: Its videochat conversations over Messenger are encrypted, listening only activates after users utter “Alexa” or “Hey, Portal,” and neither the camera nor the mic record anything. Its niftiest feature, a Smart Camera that follows users around the room, does not use facial recognition, but rather tracks bodies around rooms and is local on the device anyway. And if you have any further privacy fears, there are dedicated buttons to shut off the mic and a cover for the camera. Facebook also emphasizes that it will not use any data collected on Portal—namely call logs—for ad targeting, and the device is not launching with any ads. All that said, trust in Facebook actually having a handle on user data is, understandably, not high at the moment—a recent Pew Research study revealed that 74 percent of Facebook users are on hiatus, have updated privacy settings, or have deleted the app from their phones--so it will be interesting to see how many people actually embrace this device. As Recode points out, Amazon’s Echo Show is no. 69 on Amazon’s most popular electronics list, so Portal does not portend to be a breakout hit. Too bad, because Story Time, the Portal’s AR-based superimposition of funny filters on your face as you read a bedtime story off a a teleprompter to your kids, is super cool.
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