Facebook Building a Camera TV Set-Top Box Amid Privacy Concerns
JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL – October 17, 2018
Facebook is pushing ahead with its plans to get a camera into millions of homes despite widespread privacy concerns.
Facebook reportedly wants to stick a camera on your television as part of its foray into consumer hardware. According to Cheddar’s Alex Heath, who reported on the Portal smart display that Facebook announced last week, the TV device is codenamed “Ripley,” and it would provide both video chat and streaming video services. Facebook reportedly plans to announce the device next spring, but that timing could change.
Although Heath didn’t mention this specifically, Facebook Portal has one unique feature that might help sell the TV concept: Users can set up synchronized viewing and listening sessions with services like Facebook Watch, Food Network, Spotify, Newsy, and Pandora. In theory, watching TV with faraway friends sounds pretty neat.
The new device will be camera-equipped and able to connect to televisions to allow video chat and media content viewing, according to Cheddar’s Alex Heath.
The system is designed to be placed atop a TV, providing video chat capabilities and the ability to view Facebook Watch and third-party videos.
Facebook’s Portal’s devices sit on a desk or countertop and cost $199 for a smaller screen and $349 for a bigger one. But with Ripley, Facebook could sell a much cheaper screen-less add-on for the televisions people already have. Facebook could build a hardware network effect by releasing its Portal technology in many forms.
Facebook has also installed Amazon’s Alexa on Portal for smart home functions, allowing users of Portal to use voice commands for music on Spotify or asking questions.
While Facebook initially reassured users that calls are encrypted and said data from the device would not be used to sell advertisements, it has since backtracked on in its remarks. Facebook has now admitted that data on the length of calls and frequency of calls can be used to inform advertisement targeting.
“We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads,” a spokesman said.
Portal’s product head Rafa Camargo told Recode that Facebook didn’t “intend to use” the data, but “potentially it could be used.”
When launching Portal, Facebook head of devices Andrew Bosworth said security was paramount on the device. “We are building privacy and security first in all of our products,” Bosworth said. “When introducing a product to consumers you want to make sure they are in complete control of how that is going to integrate into their life.”
The product has fuelled widespread privacy concerns. Pat Walshe, founder of Privacy Matters, said having Facebook on any device was like “putting Dracula in charge of the bloodbank.”
Facebook is still dealing with the fallout of a data breach that affected up to 30 million users. A flaw in Facebook allowed hackers to steal access to data on Facebook profiles, affecting around 3 million users in Europe, according to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.
Along with smart speakers, whoever creates what plugs into our TVs will control a fundamental wing of future home computing. Facebook won’t surrender this market, despite its disadvantage due to its many scandals.