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Facebook Portal Camera: Privacy and other issues with Facebook’s latest gadget

It’s rare that a new gadget meets a real need today. Slightly, it creates a need.

You definitely don’t want the Facebook portal, whose main purpose is to allow you to make the kinds of video calls that you can already make on Facebook’s Messenger app. And given the company’s poor personal privacy document, do you even need it? Or a similar machine from Amazon or Google?

The Portal is part of a whole new class of devices best known as screens for making video calls, listening to music, and responding to voice prompts for tasks you can even do on your phone. Unlike tablets, these microphone-and-camera-equipped displays are meant to hang out in a specific spot in your living room, kitchen, or, gasp, bedroom.

If you’re a tech pioneer willing to try new things — and you have no qualms about privacy — here are some issues to consider.

Why have one
Facebook’s $349 Portal Plus is a great machine for making video calls using Messenger. It’s gigantic, too – 15.6 inches, measured diagonally, roughly the window scale of many microwave ovens. There’s also a little sibling, simply called the Portal, at $199.

Each mode is designed to do one thing and one thing well – lets you chat with other people on their own portal or through the standard Messenger app. Sure, the Portal can do a number of additional things, like Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, but those options feel really nailed down, much like trying to cook breakfast sausages with a toaster. created only to cook a hot dog.

Except maybe you’re in a long-distance relationship and have to spend hours every night staring into your loved one’s eyes (while also doing dinner and laundry), you can definitely get away with it, just like you’ll be able to live and not use a sizzling canine cooker. This is very true if you’re concerned about the number of screens in your home, especially the screens that might be staring at you.

Google’s Home Hub ($129) and Amazon’s Echo Present ($230) can do a lot more, but their video calling capabilities aren’t quite as good as the Portal’s. With Home Hub, for example, you’ll be able to see the person calling you, but the machine itself doesn’t have a camera for two-way video.

If video calling is your thing, you’re better off with a portal. The machine’s camera can recognize people in a room and track them as they move. So you can actually go up and down when arguing with your mother. (Fb says it doesn’t use facial recognition technology to identify people.)

Portal also has a cute “story time” feature that provides face masks and a different animation when you meet kids on the other side of the decision.

Google and Amazon gadgets don’t do both.

Siled methods
All three gadgets allow you to add a number of customers, so totally different people in your family can name their circle of friends. However, you are locked into that company’s email system.

Try explaining to your 87-year-old grandfather why he can’t FaceTime you on the portal or Skype on the home hub. Hell will freeze over before you get him to sign up for Facebook just to talk with his great grandkids. And you haven’t even mentioned the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal yet.

The good news is that you can also make calls from these devices to smartphones, although in the case of the portal you want the machine to inform animated stories. Traveling parents probably won’t be lugging one around to teach their kids back home.

As for compatibility, Facebook’s Messenger has over a billion users, and many of your friends are probably already there, at least in the US. However, Portal does not work with Facebook’s WhatsApp, which is common overseas. Setting up the machine is relatively easy.

The home hub works with Google’s Duo messaging service, so friends and family should at least set up the Duo app on their phones. It is also difficult to organize. After much swearing and searching online for the exact settings, I still get error messages. Google press representatives did not immediately respond to requests for assistance.

On the Echo Present, the recipient of your name must have the Alexa app, otherwise an Echo machine with a screen. You first set it up on a phone by giving Alexa an entry in your contact list and making sure that person is there. You can also name other people on Skype after connecting your Skype account.

Privacy issues
Obviously, a lot of thought has gone into making the portal optimal for connecting with family and friends. It’s just a shame it’s available in a year filled with privacy scandals for the company.

Admittedly, Google has had its share of privacy points this year, including a report from Related Press that it tracks individuals’ locations even if they say not to. But with Facebook, it’s something new every few weeks, culminating in revelations this week from The New York Times that Facebook shared personal information with more than 150 different companies without the individuals’ express permission.

While it’s possible to use Messenger over the phone without having a Facebook account, Portal still requires one. Facebook says it’s to enable different options, like displaying Facebook photos on your portal. But those options aren’t important for video calling — they’re just important for integrating the Portal experience into Facebook’s vast advertising system.

Facebook says it doesn’t listen to, view, document or store the content of your calls, so if you think Facebook — and that’s a big if — it won’t try to target ads based on who you’re talking to. or what is hanging in your partitions in the background.

However, other data, such as the size and frequency of your calls, is a truthful sport and can also be used to promote features – like advertisements for video call companies.

No doubt to deal with privacy considerations, Facebook has included a plastic cover for the portal’s camera. You can also turn it off with a button.

However, guarantees and plastic covers aren’t enough when Facebook has proven time and time again its lack of care with its customers’ information.