With Facebook TV, Now Living Rooms Lose Privacy | TechTree.com

With Facebook TV, Now Living Rooms Lose Privacy

The Portal products attracted negative privacy last October but that’s not stopped Facebook from launching it with the hope that they can now invade our living rooms


How many of us would want to install a camera and a microphone in our living rooms, especially if these are supplied by a company that’s been facing charges of invading digital privacy? The answer is EVERYONE!

Because in India, we hardly care about privacy – our own or that of others in our vicinity. Walking into living rooms or bedrooms because “we are close” or simply sauntering over to a colleague’s cubicle without first checking whether she’s free is the norm not the exception. So, when Facebook TV makes its appearance in India, expect long queues outside stores.

Of course, when Facebook announced it’s smart TV in the United States more than 24 hours ago, the reactions were different. Experts were aghast at their temerity.  How could a company that has grappled endless list of privacy issues come up and offer a camera and microphone to customers so that they could get a sneak peek into their television preferences?

Facebook’s VP for AR and VR Andrew Bosworth suggested that “It is the perfect time to launch this device because this device is about the same thing that Facebook is all about… just connecting people.”

Ahem! That’s all very well, but what about sharing my data with advertisers and then getting paid for allowing brands to bombard my timeline with customized advertisements? Now imagine, what Facebook could do if they could actually peek into one’s TV viewing habits or get down to analyze whom we spend time watching television with?

So, what is Facebook TV? It is a new line of Portal devices that bring to the smart TV screen form factors such as auto-zooming camera, the voice assistant speaker besides apps like Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, a Messenger video chat and encrypted WhatsApp video calls. In other words, the device turns your television into a big screen for small screen activities.

Priced at $149 in the US, the Portal TV turns televisions with an HDMI connection into anything that your mobile phone can do. So, the next time you recommend a Prime Video to a friend, you can simply video call between your televisions and watch the movie together with a picture-in-picture feature available for chilling it out too.

Facebook had introduced Portal last October when it was going through serious privacy issues but by doubling down on this product, it has shown the intent to leapfrog over the smart speakers of rivals Amazon and Google Home. However, it is not clear how much traction the company received thus far as it hasn’t shared sales figures of Portal devices.

However, the question of privacy doesn’t go away even though Facebook marketed the Portal devices as “private by design”. A report published on the CNN Business website reveals that the company admitted that contractors may listen to recordings of user interactions with Portal TV and other devices when the wake-up word “Hey Portal” is uttered.

“When the microphone is active on this device, like many devices in the categories listening for the wake word, a short voice recording and a transcript is created and sent to the servers, which might be reviewed by a team of trained reviewers, to improve the accuracy of voice services for everyone,” the website quoted Bosworth as saying.

A report published on Techcrunch.com quotes Bosworth to suggest that Facebook is aware of the scandal earlier this year when Apple, Google, Amazon and FB was criticized for sending these voice tapes for review. The article quotes the official to suggest that the “opt out” feature would be displayed in bold and users would be given a walk through at the first switch-on.

Given Facebook’s history, there is every possibility that they would camouflage this feature and have unsuspecting viewers share all their private details with the company. Barely 15 days ago, CNN Business reported that a feature that Facebook shut down a year ago has returned to haunt it as millions of user phone numbers surfaced on an unprotected online database.

At the moment, one cannot really fathom what sort of data Facebook could end up sharing with prospective advertisers. But, don’t be surprised if you suddenly get recommendations for escort services if you happen to be watching Julia Roberts-Richard Gere starrer Pretty Woman!

TAGS: Facebook TV