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Security & privacy

Creepy new Facebook device wants to watch you watch TV

Facebook is famous for being the world’s largest social network. It’s also famous for being unusually careless with your personal data — to put it mildly. That’s why when Facebook debuted its Portal family of smart home products, the reaction was rather mixed compared to Amazon or Google’s offerings.

Yet, somehow, the Portal managed to move enough units that Facebook has decided to bunker down and invest heavily in hardware development. It’s not enough that it’s in every corner of the internet these days. Now, Mark Zuckerberg is ready to make his move into the center of your living room.

In a move that surprised almost everybody, Facebook announced that it’s releasing not one, but three follow-up devices to its Portal products. The new hardware comes jam-packed with features that connect you to friends and your favorite media, but what does it really mean for your privacy? Here’s what we know.

Facebook reveals the new Portal and Portal Mini

Facebook revealed three new Portal devices on its official website in an unusual surprise announcement. The original Portal device, while popular with Facebook users, never seemed to capture the imagination the same way its Echo or Nest competitors did. But sure enough, Facebook claimed enough units had been sold to prompt the development of new hardware.

And new it is. Facebook’s new Portal and Portal Mini feature an entirely redesigned shape that looks more akin to a picture frame than a smart home hub. This is likely to prevent confusion with Google’s own Nest devices, which critics claimed looked too similar to the Facebook Portal.

The new Portal features a 10-inch display and can be pre-ordered today for $179. The Portal Mini features an eight-inch display and is also available today for pre-order, although it retails for cheaper at $129. Both devices feature capability for Facebook Messenger and AR games and come with Alexa built right in.

The star of the show: The Portal TV

Not content with merely offering a smart home hub/video conferencing device to the masses, Facebook also debuted a streaming device that connects your TV to a full-fledged camera and microphone array for living room video conferencing.

It’s calling the device the Portal TV, and it’s compatible with your favorite streaming services, as well as all the other apps found in the Portal proper. Most notably, the device allows for what Facebook calls “remote viewing parties,” where you can see your friends live as they watch something with you. A unique prospect, indeed.

The Portal TV is available for pre-order today at $149, and will also come equipped with Alexa just like its siblings.

Is it safe to use a camera and microphone array made by Facebook in my home?

This is a question that Portal buyers will need to ask themselves honestly. Facebook has not exactly been candid with how it collects and uses customer data, and in fact, has been caught red-handed selling it to questionable third parties.

What’s more, it’s even so much as admitted to transcribing voice recordings and calls via Facebook Messenger, which implies it’s still very interested in the things that users are saying.

And that’s not even counting the numerous data scandals that have plagued the company in the past two years.

These data issues underscore numerous problems with the privacy environment in modern tech, but it all points to the conclusion that Facebook may not be the best choice for a living room listening device. If we know what Amazon has been up to with our Alexa data by now, just imagine what we’ll find out is going on with the data collected by Facebook Portal.

But wait, there’s more: Facebook wants to replace your phone, too

That’s not the only news to come out of the House of Zuckerberg recently, either.

According to reports from CNBC, Facebook is allegedly working on a new kind of “smart glasses” that aim to completely replace the smartphone experience. The company has reportedly partnered with famed eyeglass designer Ray-Ban to help with the physical product and plans on shipping these devices in about five or six year’s time.

Interestingly, the glasses would apparently integrate augmented reality into your field of vision, take calls and messages, and broadcast your physical location to nearby friends. In other words, it sounds like Google Glass that can stalk you. How very on-brand, Facebook.

Call us cynical, but chasing after the same kind of product that even Google famously bombed on doesn’t seem like the smartest business decision for Facebook. But, then again, that’s also fairly on-brand.

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