Face­book wants peo­ple to in­vite its cam­eras into their homes

The Daily Courier - - HOMES -

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

But it's un­clear if peo­ple will open their homes to an in­ter­net­con­nected cam­era sold by a com­pany with a ques­tion­able track record on pro­tect­ing user pri­vacy.

Face­book is mar­ket­ing the de­vice, called Por­tal, as a way for its more than 2 bil­lion users to chat with one an­other with­out hav­ing to fuss with po­si­tion­ing and other con­trols. The de­vice fea­tures a cam­era that uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to au­to­mat­i­cally pan and zoom as peo­ple move around dur­ing calls.

Since Echo’s re­lease nearly four years ago, both Google and Ap­ple have fol­lowed Ama­zon in re­leas­ing smart speak­ers de­signed for use with their other dig­i­tal ser­vices -- some of them, at least. These speak­ers can serve as hub­like con­trollers for “smart” homes as peo­ple in­stall ap­pli­ances, light­ing and se­cu­rity sys­tems that can be con­trolled over the in­ter­net.

Por­tal rep­re­sents Face­book’s en­try into that fray. But point­ing an ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent cam­era into peo­ples’ homes could well raise other pri­vacy ques­tions.

“The first thing con­sumers are go­ing to won­der is ‘how much sen­si­tive data is this col­lect­ing about me?”’ said John Breyault, vice-pres­i­dent of pub­lic pol­icy of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and fraud at the Na­tional Con­sumers League, a Wash­ing­ton-based con­sumer ad­vo­cacy group that has re­ceived do­na­tions from Face­book and other tech com­pa­nies.

Ear­lier this year, Face­book had to ac­knowl­edge that as many as 87 mil­lion peo­ple may have had their data ac­cessed by Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a data min­ing firm that worked for the Trump cam­paign and aimed to use the data to in­flu­ence elec­tions. More re­cently, Face­book re­vealed that hack­ers man­aged to pierce its se­cu­rity to break into 50 mil­lion ac­counts .

Face­book says it won’t store Por­tal video on its data cen­tres. The de­vice will al­low users to dis­able the cam­era and mi­cro­phone with a sin­gle tap and to lock it with a nu­mer­i­cal pass­code. Face­book also says it won’t store any of the video sent through the cam­era on the com­put­ers in its data cen­tres. There’s also a phys­i­cal cam­era cover to pre­vent record­ing.

“This is go­ing to gain (Face­book) not only a place in the smart home, but also data they may not have been able to col­lect be­fore or un­der­stand be­fore,” Collins said. This in­cludes peo­ple’s lo­ca­tion, ac­tiv­i­ties and in­ter­ests -- “all the rea­sons com­pa­nies want to get into the home.”

Face­book will of­fer Por­tal in two sizes -- a $199 model with a 10inch hor­i­zon­tal screen and a $349 “Plus” ver­sion with a 15.6-inch screen that can switch be­tween ver­ti­cal or hor­i­zon­tal ori­en­ta­tions.

Both mod­els also in­clude an in­ter­net-con­nected speaker that in­cludes Ama­zon’s voice-ac­ti­vated dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, Alexa. Por­tal con­nects calls through Face­book’s Mes­sen­ger app, mean­ing that it can con­nect calls with peo­ple who aren’t us­ing Por­tal.

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