Would you trust a Facebook camera in your home?
Facebook has unveiled its own smart speaker Portal, which like the Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod, is a voice-activated device that can check the weather for you, order your groceries and tell you a joke.
But unlike its competitors, the Portal includes a camera and screen, so you can video chat with your friends.
Facebook describes the camera as “like having your own cinematographer” in your home, as it can follow you around the room if you move about during a call.
“Whether people are cooking in the kitchen or chasing the kids around the living room, Smart Camera stays with the action and automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
But it’s unclear whether people will be willing to open their homes to an internet-connected camera sold by a company with a questionable track record on protecting user privacy.
What do experts say?
John Breyault from the National Consumers League, a non-for-profit group in America that advocates for consumers, said people were likely to have some concerns.
“The first thing consumers are going to wonder is ‘how much sensitive data is this collecting about me?'” he said.
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Earlier this year, Facebook had to acknowledge that as many as 87 million people may have had their data accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm that worked for the Trump campaign and aimed to use the data to influence elections.
And just last month, Facebook revealed that hackers had managed to pierce its security to break into 50 million accounts.
So the thought of having a Facebook camera following them around their home was laughable to some tech watchers on Twitter.
“I want Portal, but from any company but Facebook,” Jelle Prins said.
But the social media giant says the speaker was created “with privacy, safety and security in mind”.
“We know that privacy and security are important when you bring new technology into your home. That’s why we designed Portal with tools that give you control,” a spokesperson said.
How will the Portal protect your privacy?
Facebook says you’ll be able to disable the Portal’s camera and microphone with a single tap, and lock it with a numerical passcode.
It also says it won’t “listen to, view or keep the contents” of video calls.
“Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure,” a spokesperson said.
Finally, the Portal will also come with a physical cover that you can place over the camera if you’re worried about being recorded.
But the Portal will, like other smart speakers, collect your data.
“This is going to gain [Facebook] not only a place in the smart home, but also data they may not have been able to collect before or understand before,” Jonathan Collins, an analyst for ABI Research, said.
That includes people’s location, activities and interests.
“All the reasons companies want to get into the home,” Mr Collins said.