back to article Facebook's new always-listening home appliance kit Portal doesn't do Facebook

It's always listening to you and comes from a division of Facebook run by the former head of US military madtech arm DARPA*, so what could possibly be creepy about Facebook's new hardware experiment, Portal? Facebook bills Portal as a video-calling device designed to always be on – making distant friends and relatives more …

  1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Maybe Zuck should have a word with Lord Sugar?

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Maybe Zuck should have a word with Lord Sugar?

      Of course, Sugar's Amstrad made a similar device of its own once upon a time. I actually knew someone who had one of the first-generation devices...

      Edit. Here's a better link

      M.

  2. Spazturtle Silver badge

    "Trust us, pleads Zuck"

    Is he pleading with us or commanding us?

    1. agatum

      "Trust us, pleads Zuck"

      Go fuck yourself zuck.

  3. Credas Silver badge

    WTF?

    Why would anyone want to buy some dedicated Facebook hardware that replicates something they already have on their phone/tablet if they've bought into the Facebook walled garden, while being useless for communicating with anybody outside it? I just don't get it.

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      Maybe it's supposed to appeal to the growing crowd of facebook haters ?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZY8jUuEzJQ

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: WTF?

        How could it appeal to them, though? It's from Facebook. That it doesn't use the Facebook website means nothing.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: WTF?

          It's from Facebook. That it doesn't use the Facebook website means nothing.

          Every other device like this snoops, so we should believe Facebook that they won't be data mining using this device? I do think they're hoping the P.T. Barnum philosophy will kick in.

      2. HolySchmoley

        Re: WTF?

        How apt!

    2. rmason Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      It's a common thing here in the comments section to forget *we* are not the target market,

      Loads of people will, initially, eat this up. Just like Alexa/google home etc. If it sticks around longer than one iteration is the question.

      Just because 'we' think it's mental, doesn't mean the other 8 people in a sample of ten will think it is.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: WTF?

        It's a common thing here in the comments section to forget *we* are not the target market,

        True.

        We are, however, a fairly good representative group of the informed consumer market. Any device we'd have misgivings about should be looked at with rather more suspicion.

        Of course, these days, experts etc. no one listens to.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: WTF?

          Of course, these days, experts etc. no one listens to.

          There aren't any experts any more.

          That product we just bought has 10,000 five star reviews, bought from China for ten cents each; the single one-star review came from a guy who bought it for his daughter but she was out when the postman came round.

          1. Andronnicus Block

            Re: WTF?

            Obligatory - almost relevant - XKCD reference

            https://www.xkcd.com/937/

            And the same with an explanation...

            https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/937:_TornadoGuard

      2. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: WTF?

        The target market appears to be the same as the target market for the Amstrad Em@iler, which didn't exist back then, and is even less likely to exist now that our phones can do these things.

      3. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: WTF?

        "It's a common thing here in the comments section to forget *we* are not the target market"

        I see this comment from time to time but I don't think it's true, for the most part. Most people here are well aware that they aren't representative of the general public. The comment you're replying to doesn't imply that he thinks he's representative, either. He's expressing genuine confusion about why people would buy this thing, which implicitly admits that he isn't.

        All that said, Facebook is consistently losing users, particularly those who are under 30 -- so I think the general public is actually starting to become aware that Facebook is a bad deal and should be avoided.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: WTF?

          All that said, Facebook is consistently losing users, particularly those who are under 30 --

          They're growing up, starting families, and suddenly realize they don't have time for Facebook. Plus, at that age they pretty much get beyond "here's a pic of today's dinner" or similar stuff.

          so I think the general public is actually starting to become aware that Facebook is a bad deal and should be avoided.

          Some are becoming aware but only those who read the news and saw the farce in front of Congress and Parliament . The rest, not so much.

        2. onefang Silver badge

          Re: WTF?

          "Facebook is consistently losing users, particularly those who are under 30 -- so I think the general public is actually starting to become aware that Facebook is a bad deal and should be avoided."

          I suspect that might be more "Argh, my parents are on Facebook now", it's no longer cool.

    3. Roger Greenwood

      Re: WTF?

      Looks like this could be made into a cheap video conferencing system. If so then I am sure someone will buy it.

      Small business looks for video conferencing at the moment and just goes "How much!!!"

    4. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: WTF?

      Why would anyone buy an speaker with an assitant such as Alexa when they have an Android and iPhone device with similar capabilities?

      I don't get that either, which means it might be some sort of fad and end up in most peoples home.

  4. Neil Charles

    "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"

    Yet.

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"

      Don't they have an analytics firm in Cambridge to do that sort of menial task?

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"

      But it can record the length of the call, who you spoke to, the time of day when you spoke to them, and links to products and events that you mentioned during the call - that's not "listening", that's data analysis.

      I assume that it connects to the network via Wi-Fi, so the device can record all network devices in the environment too, if it passes on the network ID's then they can follow both participants after the conversation ends.

    3. HolySchmoley

      Re: "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"

      Expected weasely words:

      > "Facebook doesn't listen to,

      ... because 'listen' isn't the actual way we refer to computer processing and storage of even more data about you.

      >view

      Ditto.

      >or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,

      Because we don't describe them as 'Portal video calls', (We do keep all the data associated with actual video calls', though, or course. And you were so dumb (*) that we fooled you, again, like the utter dumbsters (*) you are).

      (*) Or 'dumbfucks,' as our glorious leader famously described you.

    4. vir Silver badge

      Re: "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"

      Yet.

      The FAQ "Does Portal Have Ads?" contains the ominous response:

      Portal does not have Facebook ads at this time [emphasis added, but not entirely necessary].

      Conveniently, the Portal TOS are not readily accessible - just the improbably "Frequently Asked Questions" for a product that hasn't been released yet - a great example of Pynchon's maxim: "if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers".

    5. rmason Silver badge

      Re: "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"

      @Neil Charles

      "rogue engineer"....."deeply sorry"....."committed to blah safety, blah privacy"

    6. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"

      But Alexa probably can!

      One should ask the question; 'Why has Zuckerborg gone for Alexa?'

  5. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

    Yeah right

    "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls," the company said. You can turn off the camera and mic with a double tap, and delete your entire voice history with one command.

    I seriously doubt that anything in that paragraph is true... apart from 'the company said' bit.

    It also missed out 'process your video calls to extract data' that's different from viewing them etc.

    1. vir Silver badge

      Re: Yeah right

      Exactly: when it comes down to it, they really don't care about the actual data stream; it's far too diffuse to justify the bandwidth or storage cost. What they really want is the condensed version that flags preferences, demographic data, economic indicators - the kind of info their ad machine can really use.

      There's enough wiggle room in their statement to hide a whole elephant's weight in data gathering and enough bad-faith moves on their part to deny them the barest benefit of doubt.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Don't forget the duct tape!

        You can turn off the camera and mic with a double tap

        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/06/22/zuck_covers_mic_and_cam_sharing_not_always_good/

        1. DCFusor Silver badge

          Re: Don't forget the duct tape!

          So, should I use my .38 for the double tap, or my .45 ACP? What kind of backstop is good for this?

          1. ro55mo

            Re: Don't forget the duct tape!

            Would a heavy iron skillet be suitable? Would ruin the finish though. Seems like a bit of a waste..

          2. Mint Sauce

            Re: Don't forget the duct tape!

            I was going to go with .303 British. Somewhat overpowered for the task, but enfields have a pretty good rate of fire in the right hands :-)

  6. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls," the company said.

    Translation: We created a shell company that is not called "Facebook" to do all those things.

    1. Flakk Silver badge

      If this device comes with Alexa built in, then I suppose the shell company is called "Amazon.com". I can't help but notice that the statement didn't mention what Amazon would be doing with the data, or who they'd be sharing it with.

      1. HolySchmoley

        Bets on how long before buy-outs lead to Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, LinkedIn (*), match.com (grindr... toomanyfish... AshleyMadison...), Experian, etc., banks, retailers, political affiliations, etc., etc., etc. surveillance data all belonging to one company...?

        And which country will own it? (My money's currently on Vlad's rather than Donny's, based on brain cells. Or maybe others).

        (*) Already on the way.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          "And which country will own it?"

          None. It will be a multinational, like Google, Facebook, etc., without any real allegiance to any nation at all. The real question is: which countries will it own?

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            The real question is: which countries will it own?

            Obvious answer... all of them.

  7. Mike 16 Silver badge

    eVilla?

    Is that Cruella's sister?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: eVilla?

      No. Aston's.

  8. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge
    FAIL

    No.

    Simple enough?

  9. getHandle

    Zoom lens

    Ideal for checking out which brand goods you have in your home! It could be having a good look round when no-one's watching...

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Zoom lens

      What happens when one of the subjects in the frame is exposing, er, "naughty bits", breast feeding, man-boobs etc? Does the system pixelate or cut the video feed?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Zoom lens

        What happens when one of the subjects in the frame is exposing, er, "naughty bits", breast feeding, man-boobs etc? Does the system pixelate or cut the video feed?

        No - it immediately starts live-streaming to Twitch.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Zoom lens

      Its got Alexa ....so wait for the "people with your sofa also have this coffee table" emails from Amazon.

  10. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
    Black Helicopters

    "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls," the company said claimed. You can appear to turn off the camera and mic with a double tap, and delete your entire voice history from the local Portal with one command.

    FTFY

  11. Petalium

    So a videophone, like in the 70s....... and we all remember what a hit that was.

  12. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    FAIL

    But it doesn't make juice?

    Two fails in one. First fail is that this clearly exists for no reason except that somebody wants subscription fees and marketing data. Second, massively failed computer designs are always displayed in a kitchen. Over-priced, under-powered, enormous computers for your kitchen countertop to help you manage recopies, cook, and send e-mails. Smart appliances collecting marketing information, offering sponsored advice, and giving hackers something to play with. Now here's a video chat application turned into a bulky and expensive appliance...and it's shown in a kitchen with people helping each other cook. Who seriously wants to do that? How did this again come to exist as a marketing segment?!?!

    "Portal" looks like a tablet computer with a motorized swivel stand. JUST SELL A MOTORIZED SWIVEL STAND.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Facebook can't even give away Oculus

    A device that has some utility to some users.

    And now they're pushing more hardware???

  14. Ledswinger Silver badge

    Does Gerry Anderson's estate get a cut for him inventing this?

    I hope the eyes of the caller's picture light up when they call.

    Note for Milennials: Don't worry, you won't know what this post is about.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Does Gerry Anderson's estate get a cut for him inventing this?

      FAB

      1. HolySchmoley

        Re: Does Gerry Anderson's estate get a cut for him inventing this?

        FAB.

        Marina was FAB. (To me. At that age.)

      2. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

        Re: Does Gerry Anderson's estate get a cut for him inventing this?

        Yus, m'lady

  15. Flakk Silver badge

    My Preferences Rarely Leap to Litigation...

    ...but I think Gabe Newell should sue the ever-loving crap out of Zuckerbrah for appropriating the name of Valve's much-beloved first-person puzzle game.

    1. Graham Lockley

      Re: My Preferences Rarely Leap to Litigation...

      ....and the pic clearly shows she is making a CAKE

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: My Preferences Rarely Leap to Litigation...

        The newsfeed is a lie.

  16. Mayday Silver badge
    Big Brother

    I'm still amazed

    That people will voluntarily put telescreens such as this in their house voluntarily.

    1. Mayday Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: I'm still amazed

      Voluntarily voluntarily?

      Make mine a double thanks barman. Too late to edit. :)

      1. Winkypop Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: I'm still amazed

        Don't worry citizen.

        Winston Smith will edit that out later.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm still amazed

          "Don't worry citizen.

          Winston Smith will edit that out later."

          More appropraitely may be a short story (might be by Asimov) I once read based around a murder investigation in the future where everyone communicates via video screens most of the time and it turns out in the emd that the victim actually killed themselves as they were so paniced that someone was about to visit them in person as they'd developed an irrational fear of direct human contact ... with the final twist that visitor turned out actually to have been an android.

          1. Down not across

            Re: I'm still amazed

            More appropraitely may be a short story (might be by Asimov) I once read based around a murder investigation in the future where everyone communicates via video screens most of the time...

            It has been a long time since I read Asimov's Robot series (with Elijah Baley and R Daneel Olivaw), but that story sounds like The Naked Sun.

            1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

              Re: I'm still amazed

              The Naked Sun was an anthology, wasn't it ? Might have been one of the stories in it.

          2. ArrZarr Silver badge
            Childcatcher

            Re: I'm still amazed

            Hold on, are you suggesting that a world with minimal human contact is a bad thing?

      2. Oliver Mayes

        Re: I'm still amazed

        They mostly do it at night, mostly.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh Grandma

    What big ears you have !

  18. 0laf Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Why

    The thing is.

    The really basic thing

    The really really basic thing I've found over the years,

    Is that that the vast majority of people neither need or want video calling.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Absolutely agree. This has been tried before, as has already been noted here, and it never took off.

      It won't now either because people do like to show off, but on their own terms. They post their lives on Facebook because when they're not on the computer, it does not affect them. This is invasive and forces them to be their show-off selves when they're not ready.

      You can take a phone call when you're naked, no problem. With this, you're liable to get a bad surprise when you answer and find that your wife is looking at you wondering why the hell you're in the nude at 3 in the afternoon.

  19. onefang Silver badge

    "You can turn off the camera and mic with a double tap"

    Better yet, drape a tea towel over it, or hang your oven mitts over it. The truly paranoid can keep it under a saucepan, the ultimate tin foil hat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "You can turn off the camera and mic with a double tap"

      Or you could unplug it from the mains. Or maybe not even plug it in to start off with.

      Or you could do what most people will do and not buy one.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Even better than that, don't allow this infernal machine into your home.

  20. adam payne Silver badge

    "Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"

    Are you sure now? wouldn't want that statement to come back and bite you.

  21. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Turn off with a double tap

    A few 'double taps' would cure a lot of current technology problems.

  22. Milton Silver badge

    Aww, the Stasi would be proud

    As one of the crusties who's old enough to feel (yes, bizarrely) a little nostalgic for the Cold War—it turns out western societies were, on balance, healthier then than they are now: for every step forward made with PC tolerance, we've made two steps backwards into the internet-fuelled Age of Stupid—I cannot help wondering why anyone with the remotest scrap of intelligence would voluntarily pay money for a microphone to install in their most private retreat, their home.

    Once upon a time (and for all I know, it's the same in Putin's kleptocracy today) a conversation with a Russian or an East German might well be punctuated with a brief silence and a finger pointed upwards: which in the language of the times meant, "They are probably listening."

    We now live in an era where some western governments have arrogated to themselves spying powers and invasions of privacy which even the KGB and Stasi didn't contemplate. And democracy is more fragile than ever, with populist little-Hitler vermin up on their hind legs from the White House to Turkey and beyond. The large internet companies are notorious for harvesting every fragment of data they can, selling you for a profit, and cosying up to ever more authoritarian governments at every turn, and almost daily acknowledging the compromise of millions of people's private data.

    And many of you actually want to install always-on listening devices in your homes? So you can save your poor little tired fingers from a dozen keystrokes ...? Really??

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Aww, the Stasi would be proud

      Once upon a time (and for all I know, it's the same in Putin's kleptocracy today) a conversation with a Russian or an East German might well be punctuated with a brief silence and a finger pointed upwards: which in the language of the times meant, "They are probably listening."

      Thus, the video part. It will see you pointing and notify the proper people that you have something to hide.

  23. IGnatius T Foobar !

    Always On.

    Doesn't matter if they claim the camera and microphone are not "Always On". Just like those other creeps Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and OK Google ... they can *turn on* your camera and mic whenever they want to. Or when the government wants to.

  24. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Argh! Facebook! Argh! Always on microphone!

    Ooh, see how shiny it is.

  25. rdhood

    The most untrustworthy company in the entire world

    ""Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls," the company said. You can turn off the camera and mic with a double tap, and delete your entire voice history with one command."

    Maybe true... the instant he said it. As for the future....it is clear to me that Facebook can and will change the terms of service at their pleasure, and that they will change this policy just as soon as it becomes financially favorable to do so (I'll bet their EULA doesn't have they above statement). You simply cannot trust ANYTHING they say with respect to your privacy because they don't respect your privacy.

  26. elvisimprsntr

    If you still think Facebook is your friend, watch the 2 part PBS Frontine series.

    https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/facebook-dilemma/

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