Facebook Portal is a video call device and platform that allows Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp users to make video calls. Portal’s screens follow users throughout a room during the call so that they’re free to do other activities, rather than making sure their camera stays focused or upright (like video calls on other devices often require). Portal does this automatically, knowing where to focus depending on who is speaking and where they are.
Aside from simple video calls, Portal allows users to listen to music together through different music streaming services and have storytelling time with added music and special effects. Portal models currently available include Portal Mini, Portal, Portal +, and Portal TV (which hosts the call through your television). Alexa also comes with Portal, allowing users to give vocal commands and perform basic tasks like checking the weather.
Although video calls are encrypted and live streamed (so that Portal can’t record them), the camera can still collect conversations and see people in the room while it’s sitting unused. It also integrates with other applications, which can increase risk if those platforms aren’t secure. Personal data, such as location and IP address information, could be collected through those apps.
Those concerned about privacy recommend that users cover the Portal camera while it’s not in use, preventing it from seeing activity in the room, and disabling the microphone, although it won’t be able to respond to a voice command until it is enabled. Even if Portal is automatically set to turn off the camera and microphone, it’s still best to check if you’re concerned about your sensitive information. The device does also allow you to delete your vocal commands from its history.
In 2018, Facebook lost many users’ confidence when the Cambridge Analytica scandal hit: account information was handed unlawfully to data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, and the data breach affected 50 to 87 million users. Today, experts and laypeople alike still question Facebook’s ability to keep sensitive data secure.