Hey Portal, No Thank You

Timing is everything. 

Last week Facebook launched Portal, a new device that, according to the company, is going to “dramatically change the way we keep in touch.”

Portal, powered by artificial intelligence, offers hands-free voice control, the company proudly touts. You start a video call by saying “Hey, Portal” and giving someone’s name. Then, the magic happens.

“Whether you’re cooking in the kitchen or chasing the kids around the living room, Smart Camera stays with the action and automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view,” notes FB’s announcement. “Smart Sound minimizes background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking, no matter where they move. It’s like having your own cinematographer and sound crew direct your personal video calls.”

All this from the company that’s currently plagued with lawsuits, brand safety concerns and the biggest data breach in their history that turned “I’ve been hacked” a trending topic in the newsfeed the last few weeks.

The response has been swift … and not exactly favorable. TechCrunch called the social network a “champion of bad timing,” while FIPP’s Jamie Gavin pulled no punches, saying “there’s no getting away from the fact that this particular product feels slightly bereft of innovation. Is it just an iPad with a swanky camera? Maybe. And for a company that has long since built its name on digital advancements, jumping onto the physical hardware bandwagon at this stage feels a little, well, old skool. With software now available to facilitate video conferencing on pretty much any existing screen you can think of, why invest in the hardware of another one?”

If you can find a good answer around that question, the larger issue looms: “At a time when Facebook is still cleaning up the debris from the biggest data-breach in the company’s history, and Mark Zuckerberg is being paraded around Congressional hearings for all the world to see, an in-home Facebook video camera/voice activated device has been instantly met with privacy concerns. The brand is just not where it used to be,” Gavin writes.

“In an age when people are looking to use Facebook and wider social media platforms less, the company’s attempt to invite itself round for a chat and a cup of tea in your living room for the rock bottom price of $199 (the latest iPhone is so far being touted round about the $1,000 mark) we are arguably now reaching a tipping point in the perception of the company from intimidating, to desperate,” Gavin continues.

Would you let Portal into your home or office, knowing what we now know about them and their data-based business model? Or are we done working for them, and giving them even more clues in our personal lives and habits? AI is powerful stuff. Do I really want FB following me around on camera and mic? I do not think so.

Hey Portal, nice try, but I’m good.