This is probably great news for somebody, though I’m not sure who that might be. Facebook, already in the midst of a massive scandal about intrusive data manipulation, hacking breaches, and privacy concerns, is rolling out a new toy for everyone to install in their homes. It’s a smart video camera with rudimentary Artificial Intelligence built into it, and it will allow you to instantly jump into video chats with people while you go about your normal daily routine. It will even use sensors to figure out where you are, then rotate and zoom as required to keep you in the frame.
Hey… that’s not in the slightest way even a little bit creepy, right? (Associated Press)
Facebook is launching the first electronic device to bear its brand, a screen and camera-equipped gadget intended to make video calls easier and more intuitive.
But it’s unclear if people will open their homes to an internet-connected camera sold by a company with a questionable track record on protecting user privacy.
Facebook is marketing the device, called Portal, as a way for its more than 2 billion users to chat with one another without having to fuss with positioning and other controls. The device features a camera that uses artificial intelligence to automatically zoom as people move around during calls.
Portal? You named it… Portal? Why didn’t you just call it Window Into Your Private Life Externally Controlled by Our Faceless Army of Algorithms?
Tech industry observers were quick to note the eery similarity between this and the ever-present government monitoring devices in various dystopian novels. For the time being, Facebook is insisting that they won’t “listen to, view or keep the contents ” of video calls. They’re also including the supposed ability to “disable” the camera and microphone with a single tap and there’s a physical cover that you can put over the camera if you wish. (Which is probably at least better than the bandage I keep across the camera on my laptop.)
But why would anyone take much comfort in such assurances? I’ve been assured repeatedly that my phone doesn’t “listen” to anything I say unless I begin a sentence with “Okay, Google.” And yet my electronic helper has broken into any number of conversations in either amusing or disturbing ways. And if it’s “never listening” unless I say the magic words, how can it hear me say the magic words?
Smart televisions have been causing similar issues all over the world of late. And most of those other devices don’t even have Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition built into them. This camera sounds like one of the more alarming pieces of technology to emerge yet, and that would be true even it wasn’t being delivered by the privacy pirates at Facebook.