- On September 28, Facebook VP Guy Rosen wrote a blog post announcing a “security issue affecting almost 50 million accounts,” where unnamed attackers used a vulnerability to access millions of users’ accounts.
- Facebook followed up on the security incident last week, and sent notifications to 30 million users on Friday detailing what personal data of theirs had been accessed by the attackers.
- Earlier that same week, on October 8, Facebook announced a $US200 camera-and-microphone device for the home, called Portal, for video calling.
- People are sceptical of Facebook Portal, considering its recent scandals involving privacy and data collection.
Part of Facebook’s goal is to connect people – friends, family, and even strangers – by creating technology that facilitates communication and human interaction.
And so, it makes sense that Facebook would build a device for real-time video calls – like Apple’s FaceTime, but in a standalone device that can plug into Facebook’s massive address book known as Messenger.
Facebook unveiled such a device last week – two, in fact – called Portal and Portal+. Portal features a 10.1-inch display and costs $US199, while the 15.6-inch Portal+ costs $US349.
This should be an exciting moment for Facebook: It’s the company’s first piece of self-made hardware, and it’s directly related to the company’s mission statement.
But, as with many things in life, timing is everything.
The scandals keep on coming
Facebook was reportedly planning on unveiling the Portal back in May, but decided against it. A Bloomberg report said Facebook was still reeling from the public outcry over revelations that UK consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed the personal data of 87 million users and then used that data to influence the users with political ads. People were very upset; It didn’t seem like a good time for Facebook to hawk a camera-and-microphone device for the home.
Unfortunately, Facebook chose last week to reveal the Portal device – and the timing wasn’t much better.
Just four days after Facebook announced Portal, the company announced in a blog post that 30 million Facebook accounts were hacked by unnamed attackers. On Friday, Facebook users began receiving notifications from the company detailing the types of information (phone numbers, birth dates, etc) the hackers took.
Facebook had previously updated the public on “a security issue affecting almost 50 million accounts,” on September 28, so the company had ample time to delay the Portal announcement. But that didn’t happen, and people learned about the Portal the same week they learned their Facebook accounts were hacked.
As you could guess, the Portal announcement did not play out well online, among critics or anyone else, really.
Facebook Portal… Good luck with that pic.twitter.com/Pgnp89VO3S
— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) October 9, 2018
I've spent the last few minutes scrolling through Twitter search trying to find someone who is excited to buy the Facebook Portal. I haven't found one yet. https://t.co/CuccXlYXOW
— Sarah Frier (@sarahfrier) October 8, 2018
The only people who should buy Facebook Portal are people who enjoy being watched by strangers or worse. I trust the thinnest toilet paper on the planet 1000x more than I trust Facebook not to spy on us. https://t.co/GwTz9SggKs
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) October 8, 2018
Facebook Portal THREAD ⚡️
I can't see Facebook selling many Portal devices because:
– Poor track record with privacy and data security
– Bad relationships with news media who will have a field day mocking Facebook launching a new device that has privacy implications
— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) October 8, 2018
I want Portal, but from any company but Facebook. pic.twitter.com/PRr3kowWtD
— Jelle Prins (@jelleprins) October 8, 2018
I'm sorry, but Facebook’s VP of Portal saying "we built privacy into each one of these layers" after Cambridge Analytica, the Sept. breach and @kashhill's revelation that they harvest 2 factor phone #'s is belly-laugh ludicrous. Also, these disclaimers ???? pic.twitter.com/EmF9ulFRDY
— John Paczkowski (@JohnPaczkowski) October 8, 2018
For those of you who never read it or forgot, the 1984 reference you're looking for when talking about Facebook Portal is the "Telescreen" pic.twitter.com/iTD7xGR5Lw
— Christopher Mims ???? (@mims) October 8, 2018
We reached out to Facebook to learn more about the timing around Portal’s announcement.
What ultimately matters is what customers think
Beyond the initial reactions, it will be interesting to see what people think once they get Facebook Portal into their hands.
As I haven’t tried the device myself, I can’t say whether or not it’s worth its $US200 or $US350 price. What I will say, though, is that on paper, it has most of the same features you can get elsewhere.
Facebook Portal can make video calls, of course, and you can also use it to view Facebook Watch videos, look at your Facebook photos or albums, or listen to music through Spotify or Pandora. In the words of Tim Cook, “that’s it!”
Maybe you want a large tablet in a specific part of your home to take video calls, and that’s great. But most services you’re getting on Facebook Portal are available elsewhere: You can make video calls from your phone, tablet, or laptop, plus you can use any of those devices to look at photos and videos, or listen to music.
From a privacy perspective, Facebook’s Portal raises the same concerns as other passive-listening smart home appliances from the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple. Facebook’s poor track record with privacy might make you more weary of their product, but letting any company (even a company that doesn’t have an advertisting-based business model) put a microphone and video portal in your living room is a risky proposition.
Ultimately, people may not think about Facebook’s history with data collection and privacy when they’re considering this device. They will buy it, and keep it, because they like what it can do.
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