After Delays Amid Privacy Concerns, Facebook Unveils Smart Speaker With Camera

Gavin Hanson | Contributor

Facebook unveiled a smart speaker with an integrated video screen and camera that automatically follows users, Monday in the company’s “newsroom.”

The company announced it would be bringing an artificial intelligence (AI) camera, the Portal, designed for video chatting to stores and homes in November. “Thanks to AI technology, Portal makes video calling easier and more like hanging out, while a widescreen display lets you enjoy every moment together. When you can’t be there, Portal and Portal+ let you feel there,” Facebook said in its statement.

Facebook has recently been working with a fragile reputation and a shrinking user base among young people.

The Portal and the much larger and more maneuverable Portal+ have spent some extra time in development since Business Insider first reported that development had begun in 2017. Seven months after BI’s report, in March 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the subsequent public hearing that featured Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress, brought public scrutiny to Facebook’s ability to keep data private.

Facebook decided to postpone the release of its internet connected home camera shortly after because of the swell of public distrust that followed the controversy, according to a Bloomberg report. Facebook planned to announce what has become the Portal (formerly code-named “Aloha” at Facebook) at its annual developer conference, F8, in San Jose, California, on May 1, according to Bloomberg. The company reportedly decided to postpone after the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light.

Similarly, Facebook was recently hit by the largest data breach of its history. Around 50 million Facebook user accounts were exposed by hackers who used an exploit to take over the accounts, the company announced on Sept. 28.

The Portal and Portal+ will have a manual off switch for the microphone and a physical camera cover, Facebook noted in the announcement of its Alexa-powered home assistant devices.

The devices’ “smart camera” and “smart sound” technology will give the Portal and Portal+ the ability to focus and follow a person and the sound of one’s voice around a room, creating an effect that Facebook said is “like having your own cinematographer and sound crew.” (RELATED: Artificial Intelligence Experts Promise Not To Build Autonomous Machines That Can Kill Everyone)

Portal will give users multiple ways to lock and turn off the various aspects of the device. Facebook says it will also encrypt all video calls, and store all of its AI learning locally on the individual device, not on Facebook’s servers.

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