Facebook's upcoming smart speaker planned to be advertised as the Portal will boast facial recognition capabilities but will only store user data locally due to privacy concerns, The Information reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the development of the gadget. The device was originally planned to be announced alongside a more affordable smart speaker at this year's iteration of the Facebook F8 developer conference on May 1, yet the social media giant reportedly ended up delaying its unveiling due to the privacy controversy it's currently enduring following the revelation that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data of around 50 million of its users in an improper manner three and a half years ago.
The Portal is code-named "Aloha," whereas the other smart speaker for the company is being internally referred to as "Fiona," as per previous reports. The newly emerged information suggests the screen-equipped speaker will be highly automated in nature, being capable of accomplishing tasks such as suggesting the user calls their friend or family member if it detects both are in the immediate vicinity of their gadgets. Users will have the option of disabling that feature or limiting the number of people in their contacts lists that would be able to see when they're available to conference, insiders claim. Earlier reports indicated the Portal will be equipped with a 15-inch screen and a wide-angle camera, in addition to having the ability to stream music, with the latter functionality possibly being related to Facebook's recent moves to sign licensing agreements with the three largest music labels in the world - Warner, Universal, and Sony / ATV.
Some privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are still concerned about the idea of a device that would allow Facebook access to people's homes and record their faces from all angles by design. Facebook is already believed to have one of the world's largest private databases of faces generated by its algorithms that analyze the images people upload and tag on its social network. The decision to store such data on the speaker itself instead of uploading it to the cloud is understood to have been made only recently and was likely a direct consequence of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In theory, on-device storage is more secure than the cloud as it removes one extra party out of the sensitive data management equation. The Portal was previously rumored to have a price tag of approximately $499 but Facebook was also said to have been considering lowering that figure in order to bring it closer to the smart speakers sold by Google, Amazon, and Apple which retail for up to $400 but start at below $50. The gadget will still likely be relatively expensive to acquire due to its large screen and other technologies, as well as the fact that Facebook presumably won't be interested in selling it at a loss.