Facebook’s new video-chatting device, the Portal, goes on sale today. Throw caution to the wind by picking one up, and it taps into your Facebook account to let you make hands-free video calls, display photos, play music, stream video content, and more.
Considering that the Portal is a Facebook product—and will feature ads and Amazon’s Alexa AI assistant, no less—you’re probably a little concerned about what Facebook will be doing with what the Portal hears and sees. Since these fears are probably the biggest reason Facebook fans won’t pick up a Portal, the company recently took to its blog to assuage buyers’ concerns over its device’s data-collection practices and privacy. Here are the major takeaways about Portal privacy and advertising:
Your Portal video calls are entirely private
From the start, Facebook says that the Portal “does not listen to, view, or keep the contents of your portal video calls,” and that your calls are encrypted. That likely answers the biggest question users have about Facebook’s device, and it’s smart for Facebook to be clear about this—if you trust the company. In a world where Google scans your emails to see what you’re talking about, and AI assistants are always listening for when they’re needed, it’s reasonable to question what the Portal might do with your video calls.
Facebook will collect data from Portal
Portal calls may be private, but Facebook will still collect some kind of data from the device. Your general Portal usage metrics (such as how often you use it, what apps/features you access, who you call, and the duration of your calls) are all fair game. Facebook already collects a similar amount of data from its Messenger app, but like text data in Messenger, your Portal conversations remain encrypted.
Other information collected from Portal includes performance data—such as its screen resolution, connection quality, and volume level—as well as crash logs. From the sound of things, the information collected from Portal devices will be mostly be used to help Facebook make Portal better and fix bugs, though that’s certainly not the whole picture.
Portal will display targeted ads
While the content of your Portal video calls will remain untouched by Facebook and is inaccessible to outsiders, the information that Facebook does collect from Portal can be used for targeted ads. Furthermore, while the Portal does display ads, they aren’t from Facebook. Rather, they’ll be from third-party partners like music- or video-streaming services, or relevant apps. For example, if you use the Portal to make a bunch of video calls, you might start seeing advertising about video-calling apps.
Portal uses AI and Alexa voice commands
Portal uses proprietary Facebook AI technologies called Smart Camera and Smart Sound. Smart Camera means the Portal’s camera will automatically move around to keep everyone in the frame and focused, while Smart Sound uses AI to enhance your vocal quality.
According to Facebook, Portal’s AI tech runs locally on the device itself and not on Facebook’s servers. And since Smart Camera and Smart Sound are not facial- or vocal-recognition technologies, Facebook can’t use them to identify you or your friends. However, the Alexa software on Portal stores your voice command history and shares it with Facebook. Facebook says this data is not used for ads, and you can delete it at any time via the Facebook Activity Log (you can also manage your other Facebook activity data here too, for the record).