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Exactly what kind of a spy machine is Facebook’s smart home device going to be?


Facebook wants to break out of apps and web pages and land ... right in the middle of your home.

A report from business news network Cheddar says a screen-based Amazon Echo competitor is being developed by the social network. Called Portal, the device will be the company’s first try at smart home hardware and will focus on connecting Facebook users through video chat and could even use using facial recognition to link different household members to their account by sight. And oh yeah, it’s expected to cost as much as $500(!).

But, the gadget’s price aside, is letting Facebook, a company known for collecting as much info on users as it possibly can get away with, put a microphone and camera in the middle of your abode a good idea? As tech / privacy expert Ryan Radia told Circa: "If you have a device sitting in your living room with the ability to record both audio and video and upload it to the internet at any time, you're going to want an understanding of what that device is doing."

Yes, good call. So, what will the Portal be doing?

Speculation has floated in years past that Facebook uses the microphones inside of users' smartphones to listen to their real-world conversations in order to serve up relevant ads on Facebook. Some Facebookers on social media posted examples that seemed a little too coincidental.

Does that mean the Portal would be doing something similar from inside homes? It seems far fetched.

First of all, Facebook released a statement saying the whole smartphone microphone spying thing wasn’t true.

And Radia, who is a research fellow and regulatory council at the The Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he doesn’t believe Facebook would record its users through smartphones microphones or any kind of smart home device, because it would legally have to disclose it in its user agreement. And there are plenty of Facebookers who simply wouldn’t agree to be constantly monitored.

"In terms of an intentional setup that is likely to invade privacy in a way that people wouldn't expect, I don't think we're going to see that," he explained.

As for the device market Facebook is hoping to break into, Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home devices actually do keep recordings of the things users ask them. Neither, however, records anything without the “Alexa” or “OK Google” activation words being said first, which means they aren’t really eavesdropping. Both services also offer a way to go online and listen back or delete things that are stored.

Now, reports indicate that the Portal could be just the first of Facebook’s expected suite of smart home gadgets. Which means, if you are interested in buying into the future Facebook Smart Home, you might have a lot of user agreements to read coming up. Just to be safe.

Take it from Radia: "Looking at what a company says publicly, looking at the terms and looking at what people who write about privacy professionally have said about these devices are all things I would recommend."

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