Facebook Portal TV, which the company introduced yesterday, is one of those products where I'm not entirely sure why it exists. I mean, of course it exists because Facebook thinks it will increase engagement with the social network, which in turn will help it make more money. But I can't quite figure out why anyone on earth would actually want to put one in their home.
Sure, it has a few novel features, like the ability to video chat with your family on your 65-inch television, which could be cool if you have a large family. It includes a 120-degree camera view, which again is useful for really large group chats, but let's be honest--most of us don't actually need a life-size HD version of anyone broadcast into our living room.
It also has an interesting "Watch Together" feature that lets you and whoever you are video chatting with watch the same program via the company's Facebook Watch streaming service.
Did you even know that Facebook has a streaming service? It does.
Portal TV will also let you watch shows from Amazon Prime Video, Showtime, and CBS All-Access, though Hulu and Netflix are noticeably missing. Still, I don't know anyone who doesn't have a smart TV device and was just holding out until Facebook got into the game.
Because Facebook really shouldn't make hardware.
Yes, I know that the Portal TV isn't the first attempt the company has made at sticking a device in your home. Unfortunately, it's just another example of how the company really doesn't understand what a big trust deficit it has with its users.
Instead, it seems like the company is simply throwing everything it can at customers, hoping something might stick, without recognizing that the reason no one wants them isn't necessarily because they are bad, it's because they're Facebook.
I think it's reasonable that most people would like to keep a little distance between their smart home devices and their social-media network. That's especially true when that social-media network is known for being less-than-effective at protecting people's personal information.
Your smart home technology knows more about you than just about anything else. It knows when you're home, what you do while you're there, what music you listen to, your favorite TV shows, the temperature you like the house at night, and even what the people who live with you look like.
Facebook, on the other hand, already knows an enormous amount about what you do, both on- and offline. It knows what websites you visit, what you bought your daughter for her birthday, and where you took her for dinner--assuming you took a photo and tagged it on Instagram or Facebook, or simply checked-in to the location.
Most people, when they really think about it, are increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of information Facebook knows about us. They're also not super thrilled with the fact that every few weeks we learn about one instance of our personal data ending up in the wrong hands because Facebook can't keep our private information private.
In fairness to Facebook, the Portal TV does include the ability to make video calls via WhatsApp, which is at least an end-to-end encrypted form of communication. Still, while WhatsApp has a huge user base, most of those users aren't likely to be the target audience for a camera in your living room that is always watching and listening to you.
That's right, it's always listening. It has to, in order to hear you say "Hey Portal" to wake it up and give voice commands. It does have a physical shutter that covers the camera and mic, but as we've already learned, if it's listening, it's also recording--and Facebook has already admitted some of those recordings might be reviewed by contractors.
A device in my home that is always watching and listening, learning what I watch and who I talk to, all so Facebook can collect more information to show me ads? What could possibly go wrong?