In September a number of media members reported on Portal TV, a new living room based device from Facebook designed to allow users to use their TV’s as video phones to talk to other face to face via Facebook’s video call feature as well as WhatsApp.
The device also offers streaming services including Amazon Video, SHOWTIME, CBS All Access, Starz, Pluto TV, Red Bull TV and Neverthink with the promise of more to come soon assuming there is a demand of them or the device itself. Users can also utilize portals speakers to listen to Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio and iHeartRadio Family.
Another feature pushed for Portal TV is tat is will allow for more social viewing experiences where by you get to tell Facebook which shows you are watching and let it know which of your friends also like the content.
The question is this. Do I want to give Facebook even more access to my life than it already has via its data mining app and website? This is a good question and one many people do not seem to be asking when discussing services like smart home speakers, cameras as such. Facebook, like Microsoft and Amazon promises that there are features in place to ensure privacy such as encrypted conversations and the ability to turn off the built-in camera that is designed to follow your movements so that you always stay in the frame. In highlighting encryption it appears that Facebook wants to paint a narrative that the privacy issue only becomes a problem when users data is breached via some kind of hack. That obviously is a problem, especially for celebrities how have found nude private photos published online etc via hacks.
But as a public it’s time to start seriously rethinking the advantages of having listening devices and cameras in our homes all the time. Think about it. What would you do if the mail man showed up at your house and said “Hello, the US government would like to put this camera and microphone in your house so that you can ask it to turn on your lights and your TV or order groceries, but we promise we will never listen to you when you talk about the president, your elected officials or anything else.” Where I live the guy might not make it back to the truck. To be frank, do you want to have to remember to disable a camera in your living room when you run out of the shower to answer a phone call or find yourself in a “romantic” moment with a significant other. While your actions may well not be hacked by a “400 pond individual” somewhere it doesn’t mean that some creep on the other end of an official server isn’t getting an eye full. Another beloved American company Amazon recently admitted that it listens to conversations via Alexa.
Did you ever wonder why products and services follow you all over the internet? Facebook is currently the focus of a number of congressional inquiries and has admitted that it allowed big tech companies to read private messages from users. It also allowed Bing search engine to view the names of nearly all of a Facebook user’s friends without consent. There have also been open and shut plain English examples of how Facebook allowed users personal information, friends information and consumer information to be used to influence and some might say manipulate the news surrounding the last presidential election.
Information about what people think and like is gold in the market and used to to be culled only by expensive research campaigns like focus groups where people were very much aware they were participated in product research and in many cases compensated for it. But now companies like Facebook can offer up everything they have on you without you realizing it. Because you like pages, share info to sign into apps, openly share political ideology, share details about your family, job etc expecting that the only people who will see the information is the people on a friends list and of course the people they know depending on your own privacy setting and whether something gets shared etc.
Now with all that in mind let’s think ofthe living room or the bedroom or your kids bedrooms. What exactly is the overwhelming benefit to having a camera and a microphone that listens all the time and follows you all the time unless you think to turn it off. And more importantly what is the worst thing that could happen as a result of such technology? And what is the best benefit of the technology? For all of the people in fear of a big brother socialist state taking over the country there should be equal if not greater scrutiny concerning the control that we might just invite into our homes to have one more way to listen to music or talk to people.
So. Is it risky to purchase the Portal TV? It depends on whether you share the same dark view of information gathering and surveillance that I do. I only wonder how many people who refuse to give their email address to a cashier for fear of being followed regularly undress after work in front of cameras hooked up to their TV’s. Facebook will work hard to make sure that the only people who have a chance to exploit your private information is Facebook. Do you feel ok with that?