Facebook’s Portal Video Device Launches Amid Privacy Concerns

On Monday, one of the largest social media platform Facebook revealed the $200 Portal, the first-ever consumer hardware from the world's largest social network. The toaster-size gadget, along with a larger $350 version called Portal+, which is a cross between a smart speaker, video camera and digital photo frame. But at a time when CEO Zuckerberg's privacy and security decisions are a matter of congressional inquiry, how many people will trust one in their living room?

Facebook's advantage over other video-chat services: Chances are, almost everyone you might want to call already has an account.

It is much more same as that to Smart Display devices from Google and the Echo Show from Amazon, which are also smart speakers with screens to display information or facilitate video calls. In fact, the Portal has a partnership with Amazon and has Alexa's voice and intelligence built in to take commands, play music, set timers and answer questions.

What is much more unique and special about Facebook's device is the tech it uses to make the video calls look good. Think of it as a personal cinematographer: A 12-megapixel camera – equivalent to the one in most phones – identifies the shape of people within its 140-degree field of view, and pans and zooms to make sure they're always in the frame. You can wander around the room, do chores, Jazzercise, play with the kids or whatever.

The Portal also has also comes up with some of the tricks. You can share music over a chat for a long-distance dance party or spice up conversations with augmented-reality masks (which add bunny ears, funny glasses and other computer-generated effects to your face). There's also an AR storybook mode, which adds animated effects to your chat screen while you read a children's story.

The Portal also takes advantage of the best part about Facebook: photos. When you're not using the 10-inch touch screen for calls, it displays images from Facebook, such as a shared album you choose. You can also choose to fill the screen with info from your closest Facebook friends, including – you guessed it – birthday reminders. The larger Portal+ has an HD 15.6-inch screen that can swivel between vertical and horizontal views.

Facebook execs say that's not their intent. “We were very focused on building in privacy from the ground up,” Camargo says. “Hopefully our values shine through.”

The Portal is available for pre-order online and will arrive in stores in November. We'll see if people accept the friend request.

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