I’m terrified of Facebook Portal and you should be too

17 October 2018, 12:30 | Updated: 18 October 2018, 09:27

facebook portal
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Benedict Townsend

By Benedict Townsend

Please don't buy Facebook's new nightmare box

I love shiny new gadgets. I have an iPhone, a MacBook, an Xbox One X. I have my eye on the new Apple Watch, even though I 100% do not need an Apple Watch (because no one truly needs an Apple Watch).

I understand the hunger to own the Next Big Thing. I understand the allure of a shiny chrome gadget that’s ‘faster than before’, ‘thinner than ever’ and does it all ‘with an even better battery life’.

I get it man, I’m not gonna judge you for it.

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And so I understand, at least on a surface level, why someone may be tempted to purchase a Facebook Portal, the exciting new nightmare box from everybody’s favourite private information sieve.

But please, I beg you, please do not buy this utterly insane thing.

The Facebook Portal is Zuck ‘N Co’s attempt to enter the smart speaker market. We already have the Amazon Echo (or ‘the Alexa’ as normal people call it) and the Google Home - and now comes the Facebook Portal, which is just like those other products, but with about 78% more hilarious dystopia thrown in.

The Portal’s main gimmic, it’s Unique Selling Point, is that it has a built in camera that can follow you around - and slow down now, because it actually gets creepier from here. When Facebook first announced the device, they claimed that it would not be used for advertising purposes.

One week later, they have quickly walked this back and admitted that yes, the camera and mic on this thing will be used to determine which ads Facebook will serve to you, on other devices. No ads on the Portal itself though, which is kind of them.

Recode quotes a Facebook spokesperson who said:

“Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices. We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads."

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive. I know that none of my information is really private anymore. Between Facebook, Google and a plethora of third party apps, Silicon Valley nerds know more about me than I know about myself.

I frequently open Citymapper and freely let it know my exact location. “Oh yes”, I say, “sorry Citymapper, how rude of me. Please allow me to tell you, within a matter of meters, precisely where I am at all times. This is normal and good.”

The thing is though, I make these sacrifices of my privacy as a trade off. I let Facebook messenger have pretty much free rein of my iPhone’s microphone (yes, that’s what you agreed to when you signed up) because in return I get a snappy and reliable messaging service.

I let Citymapper know where it could potentially send assassins to kill me because, goddamn, it’s very good at helping me get to places. In each case I’m accepting the medicine of the lack of privacy in exchange for the lump of nice sugar I get in return.

The Facebook Portal, by contrast, is a camera that I have to pay to place in my own home so that Facebook can watch me, monitor what I do and then use that information to sell me ads on my phone.

What kind of insane deal is that? That’s like punching yourself in the face so you can get a coupon for a free kick in the balls.

As one astute twitter user pointed out - at least in George Orwell’s dystopian classic ‘1984’ the tyrannical government provided the spy cameras free of charge. Facebook charges you a cool $199 for the privilege ($349 if you want the 'Portal+').

Plus, we haven’t even got into the fact that this ludicrously sinister product is being made by Facebook. You know, the same Facebook that literally just announced that millions of people had their data hacked again. The Facebook that literally just admitted to lying about its video statistics, which had a devastating effect on online journalism. The Facebook that let Russia walk into a US election and just play around like a folk band in a jam session.

I wouldn’t accept a Portal from a company I trust (which at this point is, I guess, Lego? Maybe only Lego?) I’m definitely not accepting one from the lads that put FarmVille on the map.

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Look I’ve been joking around but let’s cut to the chase here; let’s be serious for a second. We are constantly bombarded by doomsayers who try to convince us that ‘the end is nigh’ and that our phones are trying to destroy us, and we all shrug it off because people have been saying that since Windows '95.

But every so often a box comes along that, once opened, cannot be closed. Every so often, all of us, as customers, are faced with a choice that we have to carefully consider. If we let Facebook Portals, or products like them, into our homes, we instantly create a new normal, a new state of being. We can’t then reset that.

Having Portals in our homes won’t end the world or inconvenience you in any noticeable way - it might even make your life better, it can tell you the weather!!!

But it will be another brick taken out of the increasingly flimsy wall that stands between ourselves as humans and ourselves as raw, submissive consumers. If you don’t look at a home advert tracking camera (a steal at $199) and immediately shudder, then it may already be too late for you.

Just this once, let’s all skip this shiny new gadget, yeah?