I'd Like to Keep My Privacy, Facebook

On October 8th, 2018, Facebook announced their first ever hardware product, the Facebook Portal and Portal Plus, a $199 smart display powered by Amazon’s Alexa platform, meant to rival Amazon’s Echo Show and Google’s newly announced Home Hub. It also features a camera that has an AI that can analyze your video calls to steal personal data and sell more detailed and accurate advertisements to your interests. Sounds like a good deal, right?

Privacy concerns are nothing new to Facebook. In November 2007, Facebook was embroiled in controversy when it was revealed they tracked what their users purchased and shared it with their friends, without user consent. In June 2013, a bug was discovered that contact information, such as phone numbers and emails, of over 6 million people that Facebook users uploaded to the site had been leaked. And as recently as March of 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where this company used psychographic data of 87 million people to advertise pro-Trump stories during and after the 2016 election, was exposed. Even in the early days of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, in a series of private messages to one of his friends, called his early users at Harvard “dumb f***s” for trusting him with their personal data on Facebook, going as far as saying to this friend “Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard, just ask”. Should we let this company, with an illustrious history of privacy concerns and breaches, have a literal window into our homes?

Don't get me wrong, I think that many of the innovations on this device are a great idea. For example, say you are on a video call with a friend, and someone walks into the frame. The camera will automatically zoom out to capture both of you. There is a case to be made that the technological advances on this device in particular outweigh the privacy concerns. The device also comes with a camera cover, for those who don't trust that the camera isn't secretly recording their home activity.

I think there can be a different approach to in home smart displays like the Portal. On October 9th, Google announced their foray into this category, the Google Home Hub. The device, other than its use of Google’s operating system and Google Assistant, has many similar features to the Portal, such as its integration with smart devices like smart locks and automatic garage doors.

However, there is one notable feature this device lacks, and that is a camera. Google, during its keynote, stated that “We consciously decided to not include a camera on Google Home Hub so you feel comfortable placing it in the private spaces of your home”. For those who want a Google-powered smart display with a camera, third party manufacturers such as Lenovo and JBL already do so, but not including a camera may be the the Home Hub’s best features, not one of its drawbacks.

Moreover, for a company like Facebook to introduce a product like this merely a week after yet another data breach that leaked 50 million of their users data was extremely ill-timed. Facebook needs to gain its users trust back. If, or possibly when that happens, maybe I’ll suggest you buy a Portal.

For those interested, the Facebook Portal and Portal Plus are available for pre-order, and will go on sale on November 19th.