Facebook launches AI-powered video chat devices

Joanna Estrada
October 12, 2018

Facebook's introduction of a device that peers into people's homes may make many consumers uncomfortable with the social network's repeated privacy scandals, including its biggest-ever data breach two weeks ago that exposed information of about 90 million users. These smart speakers will be competing with the likes of Google and Amazon, offering Alexa-enabled voice commands, video calling, music streaming, and will be compatible with a variety of Facebook services. The Facebook video chat device, which represents Facebook's first push into the hardware market, is a mountable system that allows users to make video calls through Facebook Messenger app.

Since Facebook knows when you're home thanks to your phone location, Portal will ring instead of your phone when you're nearby, but it does also stream video and music from apps like Spotify, so...

The smaller Portal device has a 10-inch horizontal screen, while the larger Portal+ has a 15-inch screen that can rotate from landscape to portrait positions. You'll still get calls on Messenger when you're away. The Portal will also allow users to connect with those on Messenger, with a notification sent out each time a friend is available to chat. It is wide enough to capture the whole living room, but with the help of Smart camera software Portal recognises a human in the frame and crops the image and zoom in, it does so smoothly, as a skilled cameraman does. The smart sound technology minimizes background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking, irrespective of wherever they are in the room. "It's like having your own cinematographer and sound crew direct your personal video calls", notes Facebook in a blog post. There's also a physical camera cover to prevent camera recording. Facebook has done this to give an assurance to its users that it is not watching their moves. It is clear that the company has noted people's concerns when it comes to the latter, as both sizes of Portal come with buttons that disable the microphones and cameras.

To manage Portal access within your home, you can set a four- to 12-digit passcode to keep the screen locked. Rafa Camargo, soon-to-be vice president of Facebook's Portal division, said in a statement, "We provide more value than anything else". Video and voice calls are encrypted and contents of them are not stored, the company said. And to start the call, all it takes is: "Hey Portal".

Some have called Portal "the worst tech device of the year".

Delete the Portal's voice history in your Facebook Activity Log whenever you want. The artificial intelligence-powered, hands-free, voice-controlled device works with Alexa, the virtual assistant developed by Amazon.

"It would be better if this had end-to-end encryption, and you have to wonder why it doesn't when you recognise that WhatsApp - another part of the Facebook empire - uses it", said Wired's Mr White.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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