Facebook has announced an extension of its Portal video-calling hardware with Portal TV, which provides both chatting and video streaming features, though privacy questions loom.
Announcing the new features on its newsroom blog, Facebook announced an extension of the Portal line with three new competitively priced devices, including one that piggybacks onto the TV’s screen for HD chatting as well as video and audio streaming through apps like Amazon Prime Video and Spotify.
Privacy is a priority in the announcement and the company appears to be aware of the concern. As a result, the hardware includes physical camera and microphone covers to give customers peace of mind.
Yet, with the new devices’ hands-free voice control feature – “Hey Portal”: a slightly adapted form of Amazon’s Alexa – the company has seemingly contradicted a decision, publicised last week, in which Facebook said it had “paused” human reviews of recorded voice messages, following revelations that it had sent audio clips to third party contractors.
In the post, Facebook explains, “A trained team may review a sample to make our voice services smarter and more accurate for everyone.”
“You can view, hear and delete any of your ‘Hey Portal’ voice interactions in your Facebook Activity Log,” the company writes. “You can also turn off voice storage in Settings anytime, which means that your voice interactions are not stored or reviewed.”
Defending the decision to review as default, Facebook’s VP, consumer hardware, Andrew Bosworth told TechCrunch that the reviews were intended to make the system less exclusive. “For a lot of people that might have a mild speech impediment, a subtle accent, who might use different words because they’re from a different region, these assistants aren’t inclusive.”
However, users will have the ability of calling via WhatsApp (which is end-to-end encrypted) as well as Facebook Messenger (which is encrypted to the server).
Additionally, the Portal TV device brings Facebook into the connected TV market, in competition with Roku, Amazon’s Fire Stick and Google’s Chromecast. It’s a rich market: according to eMarketer forecasts from 2018, it expected as many as 65.3% of US internet users to use a connected TV – that’s over 182.6 million people in the US alone.
According to WARC figures, based on Reuters/YouGov Data, connected TV penetration would hit 18.4% of the population of 38 countries, to put the market in a wider context.
It is the latest move by the social network into hardware and it follows the announcement of last year’s first-generation Portal and Portal+, which were purely for video chat. CEO Mark Zuckerberg drew derision at the time when during a discussion with the Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain, he said “we definitely don’t want a society where there’s a camera in everyone’s living room,” before being reminded of Facebook’s new living-room based camera.
Sourced from Facebook, Financial Times, TechCrunch, Business Insider, WARC Data, Harvard Law Today