Facebook launches video device, says privacy is 'very, very, very important'

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Fast-forward to this Monday, and after the reported delay, Facebook has quietly unveiled the Portal video-chat and smart speaker platform. Portal features a 10-inch display and costs $199, while Portal+ features a larger 15-inch pivoting display and costs $349.

The devices are up for pre-sale in the United States through Facebook at portal.facebook.com, and U.S. retailers Amazon and Best Buy with shipping expected to begin in November.

But lets face it, this is Facebook we are talking about, a company that has very loose definitions of the term privacy and has been repeatedly slammed in the past few years for misusing people's private data.

Facebook is out with its first hardware products: the Portal and Portal+ - Smart Displays meant to live in your living room or kitchen which are primarily meant for doing video calls. With the first, Portal users can expect the built-in camera to automatically zoom and pan to make sure that everyone is in the shot.

"You can call Facebook friends and connections on Messenger even if they don't have Portal". You can ask the device questions by using the voice command, 'Hey Portal'.

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In In an attempt to reassure users over the firm's record around user privacy, Facebook said the device comes with a camera lens cover and the ability to disable both the camera and the microphone with a single tap.

Security is a sensitive issue for Facebook which had 50 million of its user accounts breached by hackers at the end of last month in the latest privacy embarrassment.

The camera is powered by artificial intelligence, and the Smart Camera and Smart Sound technology "take all the guesswork out of video calling", Facebook says. Because the screen pivots, you can have chats in both landscape and portrait mode, unlike the vanilla Facebook Portal which is created to sit in landscape mode only. The devices are available for pre-order now for November shipping (no exact date was given) via Facebook and will be available soon at Amazon and Best Buy.

It is similar to Smart Display devices from Google and the Echo Show from Amazon, which are also smart speakers with screens to display information or facilitate video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you're calling.

But Facebook has moved to quickly allay security fears, saying that by keeping the processes on the actual device rather than in the cloud, the risk of hacking is lower than with a smartphone or computer.

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Facebook declined to elaborate further on whether Watch or other Facebook apps would run ads in the future.

The display is available in two sizes; the standard Portal looks a lot like the Echo Show, whereas the Portal Plus is much larger.

The speaker comes integrated with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant technology, which provides an always-listening service for initiating these calls amid other functions like setting reminders and ordering groceries.

Users will have access to services such as Spotify Premium, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Facebook Watch, Food Network, and Newsy at launch, with more services being added later.

Plenty of people will scoff at the idea of bringing a Facebook-made smart display into their homes, especially ones with cameras and mics.

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