Camera shy ?
Do you trust Facebook enough to install its new video device in your home? We’re not sure, either
YOU wouldn’t be a fool for thinking now might not be a good time for Facebook to ask its customers to trust it more than they ever have done before.
After all, the social network giant has suffered what you might call a bit of bad PR on the privacy front over the last few months.
First there was the Cambridge Analytica scandal then, just last week, Facebook revealed “up to 50m” of its accounts had been hacked – so this week would seem an odd time for the company to announce the launch of a new device that has a camera in it… which it wants you to put in your home.
I mean, would you have a camera that was made by Facebook in your home? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t.
And yet that has not stopped Mark Zuckerberg and co revealing plans for a new Facebook-branded hardware device called Portal – a video communications device that sits in your home.
It will come in two versions – one with a 10-inch screen just called Portal, and Portal+, which has a 15-inch screen that can be spun round so you can look at it in portrait or landscape orientation.
“Thanks to AI technology,” Facebook says, “Portal makes video calling easier and more like hanging out, while a widescreen display lets you enjoy every moment together. When you can’t be there, Portal and Portal+ let you feel there.”
And, privacy concerns aside, herein lies the problem – the Portal seems to solve a problem we don’t really have. There are lots and lots of ways to video chat with friends and family, from the iPhone’s FaceTime to the Amazon Echo Show (which is very similar in many ways to Facebook’s Portal). Do we really need another video conferencing screen in our homes?
Facebook says Portal is a bit different in that it is intended to be used from further away than other video calling devices, and its camera offers a wider field of view. Artificial AI smarts can identify people within the camera’s field of view and follow them around so they’re always in shot.
The idea is that you just feel like you’re in the room with someone else while stuff is going on – it’s not necessarily just about a one-on-one phone call with video.
It runs a very limited amount of software, too – obviously the communication is done via Messenger and Facebook, and you can chat with people who only have a smartphone and tablet. There can be up to seven people on one call.
Amazon’s Alexa AI assistant is built-in, so that makes the device a whole lot more useful in a stroke. But I’m frankly having a hard time puzzling out why you would use this instead of Amazon’s own Echo devices.
There are a few other features – it runs Spotify, so can play music in the room. And there’s video in the form of Facebook’s own fledgling Watch service.
Facebook is clearly aware of its privacy issues and goes to great lengths on the Portal website to explain just how innocent the device is – it even ships with a clip you can use to physically cover the camera up. Facebook knows we don’t trust it.
Anyway, the device is available for pre-order in the US only at the moment, but is slated to come to the UK soon, too. Its charging $199 (£150) for the smaller device, and $349 (£265) for the big one, although there are discounts if you buy multiple devices.
It’s a very puzzling release from Facebook, both in terms of the nature of the device, and the timing of its release.
I predict it’ll have a hard time in the market. It just seems like the wrong device at the wrong time.
See portal.facebook.com for more information.
Trust me, I’m a social media giant... Facebook’s new Portal device includes a camera
The screen can rotate to be landscape or portrait