Be afraid, be very afraid? Facebook unveils Portal device that puts a camera on your TV

Sep 20, 2019

Facebook is coming for your TV.

This week, the social media titan announced three new Portal products, including one that connects to your home’s biggest screen.

Facebook Portal TV attaches to your TV with an HDMI cable, costs $149 (HDMI not included) and will begin shipping on November 5.

Portal’s calling card has long been it’s “AI-powered smart camera.” Unlike other video chatting devices like Amazon’s Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub, Facebook Portal moves and zooms to follow you around the room as you talk.

Portal TV won’t replace your streaming device anytime soon

While the Portal TV does have some streaming services built in, it’s not quite ready to be your dedicated streaming device.

So far, the list is extremely limited: just Amazon Prime Video, SHOWTIME, CBS All Access, Starz, Pluto TV, Red Bull TV and Neverthink. You’ll still need another way to access services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO NOW.

That said, Portal TV clearly has an edge on video chatting and communication. While it has some streaming service compatibility, that’s not necessarily its calling card.

Is Facebook too sketchy to bring into the home?

Facebook is doing a lot to combat the “creepy factor” of bringing their camera and microphone into your living room. The company has been plagued by privacy scandals over the past few years, from Cambridge Analytica to the revelation that it’d given Netflix and Spotify the ability to read users’ private messages.

All of that has resulted in a company that users simply don’t trust. 40% of respondents in a recent Statista survey listed Facebook as the company they’d trust the least with their personal information — five times as many as second-place Amazon and Twitter.

To address this reputation, Facebook is emphasizing privacy on its latest Portal products. For one, you can now disable audio recordings entirely.

“Even with the first generation of Portal you were able to review and delete those voice interactions at any time,” Portal hardware exec Andrew Bosworth told reporters at a press event this week. “We’re now adding the ability to disable storage of voice interactions altogether.”

All Portal products will come with camera covers and indicator lights that tell you when the camera and microphone are in use.

For extra privacy, you can now use WhatsApp — a messaging and video app that is encrypted end-to-end (and also owned by Facebook) — on Portal products, too.

The bottom line

If you can get over the privacy concerns, Facebook’s new Portal TV looks like a pretty nifty product. It’s the first of the smart hubs to utilize the biggest screen in your house, turning your TV into a seamless video chat device. It’s not quite ready to be the only streaming device for your TV — Portal is still missing major apps like Netflix and Hulu — but if video chatting is important to you, it could be worth the $149 price tag.