Facebook launches its Portal video chat device amid privacy concerns

After being in the news for quite some time, Facebook has finally launched its Portal video chat device, along with the larger variant, the Portal Plus. This is the first time the social media giant is foraying into consumer tech outside of Oculus. These smart displays are primarily focused on video chatting and can be used for calling other portal users or anyone having Facebook or Facebook Messenger.

The Portal uses a wide-angle camera capable of identifying your body, which tracks you as you move around the room. Facebook says it makes the entire video chatting experience feel more natural, rather than holding a camera to your face all the time. With Portal you won’t have have to hold, aim, or direct anything. Once a chat starts up, the device’s camera will automatically find people in the room and keep them in frame. If there are multiple people in one room, the camera will automatically shift to a wide-angle frame to fit everyone in or zoom into a face if only a single person is chatting.

It can also be used play music through Spotify and Pandora, or stream video from Facebook Watch, but apart from that it is pretty much limited in its usage. Another factor that could hurt the device are the privacy issues surrounding Facebook. Starting with the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal to the recent hacking, the social media company has been hit by one scandal after the other. Trusting such a brand with a device that brings a live camera and microphone into the living room, might prove to be a difficult task.

Facebook’s Portal team (recognising the trust deficit) have packed the device with a camera cover and a button that completely turns off the mic and camera. Facebook says this doesn’t just deactivate the mic and camera, but physically cuts the circuit to prevent hacking attempts. Rafa Camargo, vice president of the Portal hardware team said that Facebook attempted to “build privacy from the ground up and on every layer of the stack” when making the Portal. It will still be interesting to see how people react to it in the initial stages. The Portal will start shipping in November, with the smaller model priced at $199 and the Portal Plus for $349.

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