We Tried Facebook’s New Portal Device (So You Don’t Have To)

Facebook’s new gadgets, Portal and Portal Plus, are meant to bring people closer together.

So we — Mike Isaac and Farhad Manjoo, two technology writers for The New York Times — took the $199 and $349 devices for a test run over the last week to see if they could make us feel more connected to each other.

We both installed the Portal, which starts shipping on Thursday, in our homes (our bedrooms, to be exact). The devices are video-calling machines that people can use to talk through a screen to other Facebook users. They have a 12-megapixel camera with high-definition video and artificial intelligence software; the camera follows people about as they move around.

The Portal has raised some privacy concerns, especially since Facebook has been scrutinized for how much information it already has on users.

Were we worried about what these always-on devices might collect on us? Here’s how it played out.

Mike: Why, hello, Farhad! It’s been a while since we last shared a column together.

Farhad: Of course, I can see people objecting — wait, not only are you putting a Facebook-connected machine in your house, but its camera will also follow you around the room, like some kind of digital Eye of Sauron?!

Mike: That was my biggest problem — and likely Facebook’s most difficult hurdle to overcome when selling the Portal. It was the idea that I was putting an always-on camera in my home, connected to Facebook, 24 hours a day. There was no shaking the feeling that I was being watched.

Facebook anticipated this. To protect from that creepy feeling, they built a kill switch into the hardware that turns off the microphone and camera. They also provided a piece of plastic to physically sheathe the camera’s eye. No more taping over the laptop lens like Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, once did.

Facebook also went out of its way to let us know that all video chats are encrypted, and the company does not store the contents of the calls, nor does it listen in on them.

But even that wasn’t enough for me! Whenever I wasn’t using the Portal, I unplugged it. I turned the camera around to face the window looking over the back yard. I would periodically check to make sure all lights or microphones were off when I took a phone call or text.

Am I too paranoid? Maybe. But that’s only because of the tech environment we find ourselves in, largely a situation of Facebook’s own making. The company doesn’t really have anyone to blame but itself.

Farhad: I think your fears are reasonable, both about these types of devices in general and about one made by Facebook in particular.

Source link

Post Comment