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Facebook starts shipping Portal, clarifies privacy/ad policy

Planning to get in early on the Portal phenomenon? Facebook announced today that it’s starting to ship the video chat device. The company’s first true piece of devoted hardware comes in two configurations: the Echo Show-like Portal and the larger Portal+ . Which run $199 and $349, respectively. There’s also a two-fer $298 bundle on the smaller unit.

The device raised some privacy red flags since it was announced early last month. The company attempted to nip some of the those issues in the bud ahead of launch — after all, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Facebook privacy. The site also hasn’t done itself any favors by offering some murky comments around data tracking and ad targeting in subsequent weeks.

With all that in mind, Facebook is also marking the launch with a blog post further spelling out Portal’s privacy policy. Top level, the company promises not to view or listen to video calls. Calls are also encrypted and all of the AI tech is performed locally on-device — IE not sent to its servers.

In the post, Facebook also promises to treat conversations on Portal the way it does all Messenger experience. That means while it won’t view the calls, it does indeed track data usage, which it may later use to serve up cross platform ads.

“When you make a Portal video call, we process the same device usage information as other Messenger-enabled devices,” Facebook writes. “This can include volume level, number of bytes received, and frame resolution — it can also include the frequency and length of your calls. Some of this information may be used for advertising purposes. For example, we may use the fact that you make lots of video calls to inform some of the ads you see. This information does not include the contents of your Portal video calls.”

In other words, it’s not collecting personally identifying data, but it tracking information. And honestly, if you have a Facebook account, you’ve already signed up for that. The question is whether you’re comfortable introducing an extra level and bringing it into your living room or kitchen.

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Facebook Messenger is building a ‘Watch Videos Together’ feature

Netflix and chill from afar? Facebook Messenger is now internally testing simultaneous co-viewing of videos. That means you and your favorite people could watch a synchronized video over group chat on your respective devices while discussing or joking about it. This “Watch Videos Together” feature could make you spend more time on Facebook Messenger while creating shared experiences that are more meaningful and positive for well-being than passively zombie-viewing videos solo. This new approach to Facebook’s Watch Party feature might feel more natural as part of messaging than through a feed, Groups or Events post. The feature was first spotted in Messenger’s codebase by Ananay Arora, the founder of deadline management app Timebound as well as a mobile investigator in the style of frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The code he discovered describes Messenger allowing you to “tap to watch together now” and “chat about the same videos at the same time” with chat thread members receiving a notification that a co-viewing is starting. “Everyone in this chat can control the video and see who’s watching,” the code explains. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that this is an “internal test” and that it doesn’t have any more to share right now. But other features originally discovered in Messenger’s code, like contact syncing with Instagram, have eventually received official launches. Watch Party exists on Facebook, but could be more popular as a chat feature A fascinating question this co-viewing feature brings up is where users will find videos to watch. It might just let you punch in a URL from Facebook or share a video from there to Messenger. The app could put a new video browsing option into the message composer or Discover tab. Or, if it really wanted to get serious about chat-based co-viewing, Facebook could allow the feature to work with video partners, ideally YouTube. Co-viewing of videos could also introduce a new revenue opportunity for Messenger. It might suggest sponsored videos, such as recent movie trailers. Or it could simply serve video ads between a queue of videos lined up for co-viewing. Facebook has recently been putting more pressure on its subsidiaries like Messenger and Instagram to monetize as News Feed ad revenue growth slows due to plateauing user growth and limited News Feed ad space. Other apps like YouTube’s Uptime (since shut down) and Facebook’s first president Sean Parker’s Airtime (never took off) have tried and failed to make co-watching a popular habit. The problem is that coordinating these synced-up experiences with friends can be troublesome. By baking simultaneous video viewing directing into Messenger, Facebook could make it as seamless as sharing a link.

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