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Facebook Dives into Home Device Market with Video Chat Product Named “Portal” (cheddar.com)
79 points by uptown 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments

My friends and I got into a debate the other night, ranking the Big Five in order of trust. While nobody really reached a consensus on what company belonged at the top (Apple was probably closest), we all agreed that Facebook was at the bottom of the list, and that they were way, way below everyone else.

There's honestly no way I would ever let Facebook have a device like this in my home (and for those wondering, I don't have Facebook on my phone).

Apple > Amazon > Google > Facebook

? Microsoft ?

Apple is a hardware and cloud company. Their incentive is to get you to buy phones and computers and lock you into their ecosystem. Some shameful behavior, but nothing that's not to be expected. Trustworthy, but in need of the occasional reprimanding.

Amazon is a middle man company. They connect sellers to buyers and interact with you to get you to use their platform. Over the past ten years they've dipped into a bunch of other markets as well, but I don't think it's affected why they collect information so far. Untrustworthy, minorly invasive, but not malicious. Yet.

Google wants to know everything about you so they can profit from your data when selling advertisements, and do so by inserting themselves into everything you do. Your calendar, your email, your browser; any place where they can squeeze in a call to their servers. Untrustworthy and highly invasive, but not malicious.

Facebook, like Google, wants to know everything about you so they can sell that data to advertisers. But whereas Google attempts to integrate itself into your natural flow of life, Facebook tries to change your behavior so that you interact with it more often. Facebook actually wants to control you. Untrustworthy, highly invasive, and malicious.

Microsoft is in the process of reinventing itself and it's too early to tell what sort of trust it will deserve, if any. But I don't think anyone is preaching optimism.

I don't feel Facebook is anywhere close to the levels of omnipresence Google has.

It's rare if some random webpage doesn't talk to Google servers, be it analytics, fonts, CAPTCHAs, "sign in with Google" buttons or whatever. And they're in every other smartphone. And they handle lots of payments. And so on.

Facebook, on the contrary, rarely shows up. Sometimes there are like buttons, but I'd say they're rare. Or maybe I'm visiting the kind of sites where they're rare.

They may try to spam me (usually with some "you have new friend suggestion" with another person I've never ever met) but not like my mail filters care about that. And I occasionally log in there to check if someone had posted something (usually nope). I fed it some public information, never ever fed it anything non-public (not just private but non-public - even though I tag some public stuff as "private" there is no harm if that becomes public), and don't post anything there myself.

I'm going to say a heresy but... that's feels basically harmless (and absolutely useless) to me.

I think you missed my point. Facebook's goal has always been to control the users. There have been numerous articles recently about how Facebook was designed to mess with user psychology to increase their engagement. They're practicing social engineering, and that to me is incredibly harmful.

And while Google is much more omnipresent (no argument there!), at least their tactics involve letting the users do what they would normally do, even if they're spying in on it. Google might be watching, but at least they aren't controlling.

Got it now.

Yeah, I guess you're right - Facebook is insistent on suggesting their way of doing things, constantly trying to tell me what to read and what to do.


In my personal experiences they have failed, though.

All their suggestions were way off and totally useless. So I just auto-ignore their mails, dismiss the notifications just by type without checking and whatever and use only what I want to use (they have some good uses).

Heck, even their Android apps are so awful, so even though I wanted some of features they sort of forced me to not install any apps and just use a browser. ;)

Maybe one is just better at PR than the other? FB manipulates people through notifications and ordering in news feed; Google does it with notifications and ordering in search results. I don't see a substantial difference.

Any time there's a Facebook widget in a page, they're siphoning off your info, whether you use it or not. That's why they were freaking out over Safari's third party cookie expiration change.

Can you elaborate how they are siphoning off someone's info if someone has uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger and someone doesn't use FB?

You might want to add uMatrix or NoScript, but having said that I don’t know if uBlock might not be enough.

> Facebook, on the contrary, rarely shows up.

How is this even remotely possible given the advertising duopoly?

No clue, really. Maybe it's just me and my browsing preferences/patterns - but their stuff quite rarely shows up on uMatrix switchboard, and given that it has block-by-default policy I sort of visit its button quite frequently. On the contrary, I see Google domains a lot, like on every other resource (if not worse).

I really always thought it's monopoly - just Google. With some small or local vendors (e.g. Yandex ads are huge on Russian-language resources) here and there, but mostly just Google.

Facebook, similar to Google uses their pixel to cookie you. See here: https://www.facebook.com/business/a/facebook-pixel. If you advertise on Facebook, the pixel is part of your site. The pixel does not have any visual representation. Its there tracking your behavior and aggregating it for advertising purposes. Not to mention, FB apps live on most smartphones. Seems to me they have the whole omnipresent thing covered.

> Amazon is a middle man company. ...I don't think it's affected why they collect information so far.

See this:




> they've created a new division called Alexa Voice Services, which builds hardware and software with the aim of making it stupendously easy to add Alexa into whatever ceiling fan, lightbulb, refrigerator, or car someone might be working on. "You should be able to talk to Alexa no matter where you're located or what device you're talking to," says Priya Abani, Amazon's director of AVS enablement. "We basically envision a world where Alexa is everywhere."

Oh, I agree. They're practicing the data gathering, but so far, it seems aimed at just getting users to buy off amazon more. They want you to restock/replace via their marketplace instead of using their competitors.

And even then, it's only reaching into the IoT crowd and leaving the rest untouched; compare to Google with Gmail and Calendar, that are trying to get the entirety of internet users.

That might change; that probably will change, but at least for now their given ends seem to be in harmony with their business model. That's why I still don't trust them, and personally I avoid using them almost entirely (I aim to keep only to Amazon Video, since its provides competition to Netflix).

Amazon has long standing, massive server contracts with alphabet agencies. It's owner also owns a newspaper that is very biased towards the "uniparty" Washington establishment. I wouldn't put my money on them not already being malicious. They may just be the best at hiding it.

they got a patent on the active listening technology, to build your profile... to sell you stuff, directly or via 3rd party sellers. Sound like a familiar business model?

This is better, people are paying to buy the device that'll profile them in their home.


It's really amusing that Microsoft gets higher regard than Amazon. Did everyone forget about Win10 telemetry that you can't disable (without having an Enterprise license)? Ads in the OS itself?

Fair point! I think my lack of trust in Amazon has less to do with trusting them with my data and more to do with an existential fear that they're going to eat the world.

It's all relative. One reason to trust MS more is that their business does not depend on your personal data.

Not for their lack of trying though, with their efforts in Bing and Windows 10 telemetry. It’s ony because no one uses their products that rely on personal information compared to the number of people who buy office and windows licenses.

They act like it does, though. Makes me think their target is data, and not operating systems / hardware.


Here's my honest take on this: It's telemetry data, that as far as we know, doesn't impact you personally other than giving MSFT data to improve the product.* There are creepy personal violations that individuals can see/feel with Google/Amazon/Facebook..."wait, how did they know I wanted to buy that".

* - Note this does not mean that it's not being or will not be used maliciously in the future. The jury is still out.

You can disable it, albeit not with the default Windows UI. You must use Powershell or a 3rd-party tool, sort of like com.apple.telemetry.

From what I've heard updates just renable it too don't they?

No, they do not.

I have this weird perception that Microsoft is directed by incompetent idiots in suits. Every product they release is half-assed, the only thing keeping them alive is the momentum they've gained from Windows.

Instead, I feel like there are really smart people in the rest of the companies, even considering that some of them have evil intentions.

The exact order of trustworthiness for the Big Five is irrelevant, because it rounds down to zero for all of them. They all have an NSA backdoor through PRISM - this trumps all other privacy concerns.

It seriously boggles my mind. Snowden revealed that these companies have all given direct access to their data to the NSA. The public's response is to forget about within a few years and to go out an buy microphones and cameras from these companies to put into their homes.

I agree with you and admit I like seeing the arguments behind why a product or corporate entity may appear safer... how much of that decision is a byproduct of advertising and/or brand loyalty?

That's an interesting one. I'd vote:

Apple > Microsoft >> Google == Amazon >> Facebook

Facebook is dead last by a mile.

This comes up time and time again on HN, and I continue to struggle to understand it.

Admittedly, Facebook have very recently passed out Google on my rankings, and is now in last place, but it's always been a close one. Facebook is very much a tentative last. Google has been very comfortably last until recently, and could easily slip down again.

What exactly is it that makes people trust Google? How is Google even remotely comparable to Amazon???

How is Microsoft more trustworthy than Google? Google's involvement in OSS vs Microsoft's time-old approach tells a huge story to people who write software.

I trust Amazon less than I do Facebook. Facebook lets me see exactly what kind of advertising data they have on me and lets me export all my data. Google does the same. Amazon just shows me recommendations and tries to sell me android tablets full of crapware or sneak their crapware onto Ubuntu. If you've ever worked at Facebook you'll know internally their culture of openness is very similar to Google's "Don't be evil" ...but less explicit. And explicit company values matter, so that is a knock on them. But yeah, Amazon seems worse. Compare their internal cultures because it does affect what direction their products take.

Apple is trustworthy only in the sense that they make hardware devices that, if backdoored, would be terrible for their business. Their cloud services have the same incentive structures as Google so I feel they're fairly equivalent (plus under the hood Apple uses one of the major cloud providers).

Apple > Google > Microsoft ~= Facebook > Amazon.

This ranking encodes:

1. Which physical devices I would trust more (iPad > Fire Tablet).

2. How wary I would be of using their services (e.g Google Search > Amazon Shopping).

3. Whose culture is better for user trust (Google's track record >> Microsoft or Facebook's track record).

I work at Microsoft, and while what you say may be true for the Microsoft of 20 years ago, the Microsoft of today is very heavily involved in OSS. We use and credit open source tools in our day to day products, contribute back to these projects, and open sourcing some of our existing tools like .NET. We're probably not at the level of Google, but far more than you're giving us credit for in this comment.

I'm very aware of the new Satya MSFT and think it's great. But you can't take away distrust built over years of Microsoft saying "we changed" then committing competition-killing bad-faith practices when they think nobody is watching.

Here's to hoping MSFT is actually different today.

Furthermore part of my calculus is that internal culture matters. Last I checked MSFT's internal culture still doesn't value openness and user trust the way Google or Facebook do, where it's a core company value.

Microsoft saying "we changed" then committing competition-killing bad-faith practices when they think nobody is watching.

As opposed to what Google repeatedly gets slapped by the EU for doing, Facebook vs SnapChat, etc?

Here's to hoping MSFT is actually different today. * Last I checked MSFT's internal culture still doesn't value openness and user trust the way Google or Facebook do, where it's a core company value.*

Google and Facebook both only open source code that doesn't endanger their competitiveness.

As an extremely happy vscode (and typescript) user, and an avid follower of the ChakraCore Node efforts, I'm well aware of the changes. The Windows telemetry stuff is also a recent change though, so I'm afraid your argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Any company will have positive sides if you look close enough.

I would largely agree with others' rankings above, I only find the placement of Google anomalous. I'd go with

Apple > Microsoft >> Amazon >>>> Google == Facebook

The fact that Apple, Microsoft and Amazon run on business models where products are primarily charged for makes a big difference. Then, among them, individual smaller grievances influence levels of trust: MS has a history of security issues with login mechanisms, newer Windows versions collect slightly excessive amounts of telemetry with difficult opt-out, Apple's closed eco systems are user-hostile and anticompetitive, etc. etc. None of them are good companies.

Facebook and Google are on a different level. And products they sell directly are secondary; you are the primary product.

Normally I would be inclined to put Google lower for one reason: Google is everywhere. Facebook is on facebook.com. Yes, there's a large social penalty to avoiding registration, but it's still entirely at your discretion. They keep shadow profiles of you via facial recognition of photos taken of you by other people who have Facebook accounts, but other than that exposure to Facebook is mostly limited by having an account there. Google is only avoidable by cutting yourself off from technological society. They are omnipresent and all powerful. And, while Facebook has a track record of publishing academic research on very creepy experiments they run on their (opted-in) users, Google meanwhile have a strong track of violating the law on collecting data in everyone and everything in the world.

Facebook are terrible, but the blindness to Google's reach is starting to seem scarier tbh.

I don't understand how you conclude that Google is everywhere whereas Facebook is only on Facebook.com. I'm not disagreeing that Google is everywhere, but I'd argue that so is Facebook. Are you making this distinction mainly because of Android and its market share? From the privacy angle, Facebook is also on Instagram, WhatsApp (this to a limited extent) and on most websites that use Facebook for comments and/or have Facebook Like buttons.

I don't have links right now, but I've read that Facebook also engages and buys data from large online tracking and profiling companies.

You're right about WhatsApp and Instagram, but they're similarly opt-in. On the in-website comments/like buttons - this is also true, but quite trivial to block (most blocking extensions will do it out of the box, some browsers are even doing it as a built-in feature). Such blockers will also block some subset of Google stuff - e.g. Google Analytics - but miss the vast majority of it.

Google provides DNS - handling every domain look-up for anyone using it. This setting is often at a router or even ISP level. Google hosts the TLS verification databases used by browsers to bulk-verify the lists of HTTPS sites you visit. Google Analytics is not just in websites, it's embedded in many non-web apps you use, even some CLI ones. Even excluding the ever-pervasive Google Analytics, Google also provides myriad services to 90% of individual websites you visit. StackOverflow relies on HTTP requests to Google servers for all posting/commenting/interactive functionality. Google (or Apple) own and control your mobile phone. They track your every move, wherever you go. They can see every app you open, and often how long you spend in it, regardless of who developed that app. They read the contents of most of the emails you send, regardless of who you host your own emails with (because not only are most personal emails on Gmail, a significant quantity of @corporatedomain ones are too). Google measures the physical location of the WiFi router you have in your house from other people's Android's as they walk by (and from Google StreetView cars).

With Facebook you can choose not to sign up to Facebook/WhatsApp or Instagram. Apart from not buying an Android phone, most of the above is not trivial to avoid, and the website stuff I mentioned in particular is only the tip of the iceberg.

> How is Microsoft more trustworthy than Google?

For one, their entire business/revenue doesn't revolve around selling advertising. While they (MS) have gotten into tracking more data with Windows 10 and so on, they are still nowhere close to where Google is when you look at what they do with Android, Chrome, Gmail, Google Search, Google Analytics, Google Home, etc.

For me personally, Google is far and away the # 1 threat to my privacy followed by Facebook and Amazon then MS and Apple at the bottom of the list.

A company's involvement in your life should have security/transparency multipliers. Google has more of your data, but they do a better job of keeping things safe and communicating with you what they have and how they use it.

That said it makes sense that if one company has too much of your data you should rightfully be wary of them. +1

When I use a microsoft product, I'm more likely to be paying for it, unlike with many Google products. So for whatever reason, I'd like to think they are protecting my privacy slightly more.

Having less of your data by default means they can do less with it, so you are "safer" for that reason. I'd be wary of confusing that with "they are trying to protect my privacy more."

How is Microsoft more trustworthy than Google? Google's involvement in OSS vs Microsoft's time-old approach tells a huge story to people who write software.

Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft all open source code that isn't part of the Crown Jewels. Even many of the parts of Android that people consider Android are closed source.

I think because although Facebook have quite a strong moral code, and a culture which upholds that, their morals themselves are somewhat questionable. In particular, they seem to see nothing wrong with collecting all the data they possible can and using it for profit-making purposes.

> How is Google even remotely comparable to Amazon???

If you're already scared of Google and Facebook this is an easy one: Amazon's growth will increasingly depend on advertising, and they will continue to grow. Pretty much everything they have done in the last couple years moves in this direction: a search page riddled with sponsored results, Echo (https://gizmodo.com/yes-your-amazon-echo-is-an-ad-machine-18...), my new 30 dollar Fire tablet that always shows me ads, retargeting, etc. Amazon has Google-level information on its users, and will use it in ways that are simialrly invasive.

I see a lot of people writing off Amazon because it's not as ubiquitous as Google in their lives. This is a mistake: their dominance will continue to grow. They have the best product strategy I've ever seen, and everything they are doing will move them in the direction of being a central part of everyone's lives (even non-Americans - when I was in India recently and I saw an Amazon billboard or bus ad every 5 minutes, even in smaller towns).

I'd say it's not a matter of people trusting Google. It's an absolute distrust in Facebook.

Sure, Google's primary business is in advertising, but when we consider security too, Google suddenly looks much better.

So in the question of who do I trust my data with. I will have to pick Google.

Though nowadays with 2 factor authentication, any service should be secure enough against external attacks.

External attacks are only half the story. What about the thousands of employees (especially the SREs) who may or may not be a few clicks away from root access on the machine which contains your email?

Right, mine was Apple > Microsoft > Amazon >> Google >>>>> Facebook

It's amusing that people would actually put Microsoft before Google considering all of the data Microsoft has shared with the NSA. They were also complicit into actually breaking into their user's accounts because they suspected them of selling pirated copies of their software.

And then there's this:

According to this NSA slide Microsoft was volunteering data to the NSA way back in 2007.


In fact, Microsoft was the very first company to sign up.

According to The Guardian, NSA had access to chats and emails on Hotmail.com, Skype, because Microsoft had “developed a surveillance capability to deal” with the interception of chats, and “for Prism collection against Microsoft email services will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption.

Microsoft even handed the NSA access to encrypted messages


Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.

The documents show that:

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;

• Microsoft also worked with the FBI's Data Intercept Unit to "understand" potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;

• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a "team sport".

The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers' privacy concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.

In a statement, Microsoft said: "When we upgrade or update products we aren't absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands." The company reiterated its argument that it provides customer data "only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers".

In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have "direct access" through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies, including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time. Targeting US citizens does require an individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans' communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign national located overseas.

Since Prism's existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies listed on the NSA documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the program and insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors into their systems.

Microsoft's latest marketing campaign, launched in April, emphasizes its commitment to privacy with the slogan: "Your privacy is our priority."

Similarly, Skype's privacy policy states: "Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and communications content."

But internal NSA newsletters, marked top secret, suggest the co-operation between the intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing.

The latest documents come from the NSA's Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the "crown jewel" of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.

The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft's Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing the service in July last year.

Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats

A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: "MS [Microsoft], working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal" with the issue. "These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012."

Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.

Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. "For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption."

Microsoft's co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8 April 2013 describes how the company worked "for many months" with the FBI – which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.

The document describes how this access "means that analysts will no longer have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that many analysts may not have known about".

The NSA explained that "this new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response". It continued: "This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established."

A separate entry identified another area for collaboration. "The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand an additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email aliases, which may affect our tasking processes."

The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663 million global users.

One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. "The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete 'picture'," it says.

Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program in February 2011.

According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype into Prism in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.

The NSA was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and collection began on 6 February. "Feedback indicated that a collected Skype call was very clear and the metadata looked complete," the document stated, praising the co-operation between NSA teams and the FBI. "Collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system."

ACLU technology expert Chris Soghoian said the revelations would surprise many Skype users. "In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users about their inability to perform wiretaps," he said. "It's hard to square Microsoft's secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts to compete on privacy with Google."

The information the NSA collects from Prism is routinely shared with both the FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012 newsletter describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the other two agencies.

The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of Prism, using software that "enables our partners to see which selectors [search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism".

The document continues: "The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism collection of any selector…" As a result, the author notes: "these two activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!"

I'd vote:

>>>> Apple >>>>> Microsoft >^∞ Amazon > Google >>>>>>>> Facebook

None of these companies are trustworthy, but Apple's business model doesn't require them to be quite as untrustworthy as the others to get your money. Microsoft is quickly headed down the ladder with their difficult to avoid or disable telemetry and an OS that spits ads in your face. Amazon is close to becoming Google's equal on this list with their "Alexa in all of the things" push. Facebook is run by Mark Zuckerberg, who acts as an anchor to keep it firmly planted at the bottom of the list.

Met someone who works at Apple over the holidays and he had trouble believing that I trusted Apple over any of the other big tech companies mentioned, but wasn't able to delve into his reasoning.

theverge ran a study on this (like, not a web poll but actually contracted a research firm to do a proper study)

Among the general public, Amazon and Google are significantly more trusted than the others: https://www.theverge.com/2017/10/27/16550640/verge-tech-surv...

> There's honestly no way I would ever let Facebook have a device like this in my home

Dave Egger's excellent "The Circle" is a well-written, engrossing and quick book about "what if" Facebook becomes even more a part of people's lives with a personal surveillance device. Do not watch the movie, read the book.


Ha... I watched the movie, which was a mistake! I'll go back and read the book now

> "According to people familiar with Facebook’s plans, Portal will be equipped with a wide-angle lens that is capable of recognizing individual faces and associating them with their Facebook accounts."

In addition to Facebook being viewed as the least trustworthy as mentioned in other comments, let's just casually add in facial recognition cameras into our homes too!

There are plenty of reasons to be wary of home devices no matter the company, but holy fuck I wouldn't touch this one with a 10-foot pole.

As an alternative to this, I love Google's personal recognition solution of recognizing voice with a small model so that while it can distinguish between (I think up to 10?) people, it is in no way good enough to fingerprint your voice.

I won't go into homes with an active Portal, for as long as that's remotely practical. Jesus christ.

They sure didn't think through this name, at the very least.

I imagine it narrowly beat out "Telescreen".

I’m not sure I would trust Facebook with an always-on wide-angle lens and microphone in my house. I can’t imagine the next-level of creepy ads that will enable. It’s creepy enough when they start showing ads for physical stores I’ve visited.

Oddly enough Facebook has the lowest quality of ads in my opinion. For the large amounts of data they have on me, they don't seem to utilize it effectively

Have you seen anyone using it effectively?

Absolutely not. I'm really amazed by how bad Amazon is sometimes.

I buy cat food once for a friend - eternally and constantly get recommendations for more cat stuff.

I buy coffee filters every 6 months - I get "buy it again" a week later. This lasts for a month. Then it goes away. 5 months later, end of my regular buying period, and they seem to have forgotten all about them.

Ads/recommendations are shown to you at an 'auction', companies bid in micro-second level timing to show you an ad/recommendation.

So, when you say that you get low quality ads, you are telling us that the bidders think you aren't worth much. Hence, you get the same ad over and over, because you are being targeted by the 'long tail' of the bidders. Also, they 'forget' you for the same reason, because you aren't worth enough to them to become a 'regular'.

It's not the bidders, it's that you wisely don't respond well to ads/recommendations on the internet.

No offense ;)

Ah well that put a positive note on my morning coffee. I didn't know that.

But still wouldn't it be valuable to the bidders for Amazon to fix this? Or shouldn't Amazon value better targeting because relevant ads convince users to engage with the platform more? The people selling the coffee filters are still guaranteed my business, just not before 6 months. I always buy from the same seller too so it could be a good opportunity for a competitor to sneak in right at the 6 month mark and make a new repeat customer.

I guess the answer to that is probably "well the system works well enough elsewhere so that would just be hyper-optimization"

Yeah, with large companies like Amazon, never discount bureaucratic log-jams and just regular stupidity. I agree with you that optimizations can be made, but the system may be in a 'not broken, don't fix' local maximum. The inertia and complexity may be too hard to over come. Twitter only recently upped the character limit after nearly a decade because the old code-base was spaghetti and didn't allow improvement.

But these are the reasons why the large CEOs have always been terrified of 'two guys in a garage'. They know they have issues like this, and that the little scrappers don't. If anything, these little issues are the camel's nose under the tent of Amazon.

Not all the recommendations are paid ads.

But they are equally terrible in quality

So then why is that? I'd assume general stupidity, we're humans after-all. But there may be something else going on. Any ideas?

I’m surprised how it can’t even stop advertising a you-only-need-one product like an ironing board to me a week after I definitely purchased one. This isnt even machine learning level problem space.

Very true. Oh you just spent $400 on a top of the line product that'll last a decade? Here, check out these $100 bottom of the barrel alternatives that'll surely break in a month.

I get that Amazon is doing auction advertising but it seems like the value of their ads would be higher if they could correctly target them.

Now here's a device that actually is a straight wiretap.

I wonder if they just hope that people don't care, or if they are actually going to design it in some kind of not-a-wiretap way (hopefully following Google/Amazon's example)

I’m surprised they aren’t releasing it for free to align with their mission of connecting the world, always on, all the time.

Of course the catch would be it watches you, knows you by your face, and builds your advertising profile.

The catch is that it automatically builds a social graph based on recognizing the faces of people who visit you. No facebook account and don't pose for pictures? No problem, we'll just install facial recognition cameras in the houses of your friends.

> Of course the catch would be it watches you, knows you by your face, and builds your advertising profile.

And it would be enhanced to detect your emotional state from facial expressions, tone of voice, who you're with, your relationship with them, etc., and then suggest something (addictive) to cheer you up or keep you more excited. If someone didn't consider Facebook as being akin to an addictive drug, this one would prove them wrong once and for all! The sales pitch would be some drivel about meaningful connnections, interactions and experiences.

I bet they'll bring the prices down sooner than later. Maybe they just want to create hype first.

I've never heard of cheddar - it is almost more interesting than facebook's portal. Looks like tech broadcast news that is not on tv but digital only.

Ironically enough, they've grown on the back of their live broadcast primarily distributed via Facebook Live.

My first thought when landing on their page was "is this serious or a The Onion-style parody?"

While I understand that my smartphone can be used as a listening device, the day when I will purchase a dedicated wire tap for my house will be never. I've been to people's houses that have them and sure they're fun when you're having some beers and want to hear a song I don't mind taking 2 seconds to manual select a song on my phone to keep a hot mic out of my house.

That sounds like an absurd waste of time. Anyone who wants to do most of that can already do so, just they won't have the "luxury" of Facebook monetizing it.

I don’t see yet how this can possibly be more than a clone of the Echo Show, but twice as expensive and with Facebook-y features. I don’t spot anything particularly significant in this article that differentiates it — even the leaked image looks similar to the hardware. I have to assume most of the price difference would come down to screen size or resolution.

In any case, it’s very interesting to think about Facebook getting into video as they are leaning into Live already. I wonder if there is also more Live programming products in the works as they continue to ramp up against YouTube, and explore content creation... but still, I don’t know many people now who video chat via FB (or any FB properties), but I’m on iOS and pretty much exclusively use FaceTime for that so I’m in a bubble there.

Comical that they will charge $500. The data (revenue) they gain from me owning a portal I'd imagine would off set the cost to build and develop this product.

Same price point and similar privacy invasion as a smartphone.

I'm making a note here: huge success...

Seriously Facebook guys, do you check nothing? There is no way the internet isn't going to connect wide angle lenses, invasion of privacy and a psychopathic if lovable computer program with Aperture Science. I hope that's what you're going for.

I was hoping for a device with VR experience. I've been waiting for something like this since they acquired Oculus.

Did they all sit down and go - you know, that Facebook phone thing was such a huge success... let's do that again!

No, they know FaceOS and Fire(sale)phone did poorly but that Amazon is getting the side-angle with Echo/Show so they figured they might get a good 2nd place with the "I don't care if it's creepy" crowd.

Echo did well because it was the first to market and quickly built up an ecosystem. Google home did well because google and because of the integration with their video/music/phone services. There's no incentive to jump on the facebook bandwagon, they offer nothing unique. And even among uneducated consumers, they've got a bad reputation WRT privacy.

If their best and brightest couldn't see that coming... they're in trouble.

This is a video chat hardware device, not an assistant. Facebook has become the de-facto messaging platform for most of the people I know, and Facebook's Video chat is typically what I suggest when I want to do a video conference with a non-technical user. Google totally blew their commanding network and technical lead by the repeated gchat -> hangouts -> duo migrations. No one I know is typically logged into hangouts anymore, and I've never even had a single contact sign up for duo or allo. Facetime is a non-starter for the 80% of the population that uses something other than a Mac and an iOS device. Facebook works everywhere, has all my contacts, and is something people know and use.

>they figured tvey might get a good second place with the "I don't care if it's creepy" crowd.

except, usually you get a much better deal on a product when you go the "i dont care if its creepy" route. this is twice the price of the Amazon Show.

I wonder how this ties into the recent rumors circling about Facebook buying RingCentral.

That's a brilliant product. Assuming it's reliable and user friendly, that's the kind of product I'd give my parents (or even grand mother) so that they can easily video chat with the rest of the family.

I gave my 90 year old grandmother an Echo Show for Christmas and she loves it. My main goal was video chat (which she can also initiate herself), but she’s actively using it as a radio, weather station and calendar for the trash pick up.

To help her remember the commands I made a reference sheet with the most common phrases, but what mainly helped her was to think of talking to Alexa as if she was talking to a dog: Giving clear, loudly spoken commands.

Did you see the recent SNL skit? I think that a real Alexa for Seniors would incorporate some of what this spoof Alexa does.


Heh, the difficulty in remembering the wake word actually rings true. We tried it with „Alexa“ first which is somewhat difficult to pronounce for a German speaker who doesn’t known any English. „Echo“ however worked well and she had no problem remembering it.

Just wondering: Have you looked into the Echo Show or Spot?

Also, my theory is this story is coming out intentionally ahead of CES where Google will likely show a similar product to both this "Portal" thing and Amazon's Echo Show/Spot.

Google announced their version of this yesterday. they have a "smart screen" platform and are partnering with lenovo and a few others to launch products by the summer.

The Google Assistant is coming to new smart screen devices, too, with JBL, Lenovo, LG, and Sony all crafting Google Assistant smart screens.


Facebook has jumped the shark.

Who would be so stupid to buy one of these?

Portal to hell.

Lolz. That's some awesome industrial design -- did they use 1984 as inspiration?

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