Facebook is defending its new Portal virtual assistant as the device goes on sale in the US. The company says it’s not going to use Portal to target ads nor is it able to see the what you say in video and audio messages.
The company, which has had numerous problems with data leaks and hackers recently, is clearly concerned about the reaction to Portal.
Like any virtual assistant there are aspects which bother some people. A camera and microphone in your home immediately raises concerns about how this could be used, not just by Facebook, but by a third-party that somehow gained access.
In September the company admitted that through a bug, hackers were able to gain access to a huge number of accounts on Facebook.
Potential users of Portal may well be concerned that hackers could gain access to either the device itself, or the history that it creates as you use it.
To attempt to reassure people the Portal comes with a device that blocks the camera, so you can be sure no one is able to see you in private moments.
As with all voice assistants the audio commands you give it are sent to Facebook over the internet and stored. You can clear this history, Facebook says, but it would require action on the part of the user to do so.
The company does admit that sometimes the device will log details. Some of this may be used to sell you ads, although it repeated that it isn’t (currently) displaying ads on the device itself.
For example, the company tracks how many calls you make and how often you make them. It’s also able to tell how much data you’re using in video calls and what quality they were placed in.
Third-party apps like, say, Spotify, may play ads to you as they would on any other device. These aren’t managed by Facebook though, so none of your Facebook data would be shared.
If the device crashes then Facebook says a very small section of audio and video may be sent to it for device management. What’s not clear is how it’s able to use video and audio data that’s encrypted.
Portal comes in two versions, a $199 device that looks much like Amazon’s Echo Show, or a larger £349 model with a larger, vertical screen.
The devices are on sale now, but only for American customers only.