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Home / Tips and Tricks / Facebook & # 39; s new smart portal view: who listens and what happens to your data?

Facebook & # 39; s new smart portal view: who listens and what happens to your data?

Facebook & # 39; s new fleet of Portal smart displays wants a place in your home. James Martin / CNET

Facebook introduced three new versions of its Portal smart display on Wednesday – a "Mini" version with an 8-inch screen for $ 129, a $ 179 version with a 10-inch screen ( the same size) as the Amazon Echo Show and the Google Nest Hub Max ), and an independent, Kinect-like camera accessory that costs $ 1

49 and you use your entire TV as a portal device.

Each comes with an AI-powered "Smart Camera" that you can follow as you move through the frame during a call, and each with the same microphones for speech-activated controls as originals . You can & # 39; Hé Portal & # 39; to wake it up and have a video call or other functions, and you can & # 39; Alexa & # 39; to also access the full capabilities of the Amazon digital assistant.

  The future is private

After countless privacy errors and outright scandals, Facebook tries to assure consumers that you can trust it with your data. James Martin / CNET

That means that every portal also entails privacy issues. After all, this is Facebook, a company that recently received a record fine of $ 5 billion from the Federal Trade Commission for its privacy failure, as well as a fine of $ 100 million from the US Securities Exchange Commission . Each of these resulted from the Facebook announcement in March 2018 that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had unauthorized access to personal data from to 87 million Facebook users years earlier. Cambridge Analytica is now accused of using that stolen data to influence influential elections around the world, including the 2016 presidential campaign and the British Brexit vote.

Perhaps worst of all, Facebook broke your trust when it was users of the colossal breach until well after it was heard about it and only after the New York Times and the Guardian had scandalized stories.

"For more than two years, Facebook & # 39; s public disclosures presented the risk of misuse of user data as purely hypothetical when Facebook knew that an external developer had actually misused Facebook user data," the SEC said.

In other words, anyone considering a Facebook device with always-on-home listening devices – listening microphones and an AI camera must first consider Facebook's privacy practices. So let's do that.


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Is Facebook monitoring? (Is someone not listening?)

Facebook Portal devices use the same kind of microphones as other smart screens, which means they always listen to the wake words (in this case "Hey, Portal"). When you say the keyword words, the device is activated and it starts recording the audio of whatever you say. From there, the device sends that audio clip to the Facebook cloud to find out how to respond.

That is the same way that other voice-assisted smart assistant gadgets work, including Alexa devices from Amazon, smart speakers from Google Home and smart Google displays, as well as assistants such as Apple's Siri and Cortana from Microsoft. It is also how those voice assistants work when you use them on your phone.

The logical sequel: what do these companies do with those audio clips, some of which include background conversations that are not meant to be shared? Is someone listening to them?

The answer is yes. Both Amazon and Google admitted earlier this year that they had hired contractors to listen to such recordings to help refine the capabilities of their respective assistants. Apple and Microsoft soon followed. Human assessment of user audio was a standard practice for everyone.

The Facebook portal and the Mini Smart Screens portal send audio of your spoken questions to Facebook's servers to find out how to respond. Facebook stores that audio and listens to refine the capabilities of the device.

Juan Garzon / CNET You can choose not to save your audio and possibly to listen to it.

From there, Apple has announced that it will only allow human assessment of Siri voice recordings after users have logged in. Amazon now allows Alexa users to opt out of human assessment in the Alexa app. Google paused the practice after German regulators had completely banned it . Microsoft says it has stopped listening to Xbox recordings, although it seems that Skype translations are still on the table .

And Facebook? The company admitted that it also, paid contractors to transcribe Messenger calls for the purpose of improving service. After a short pause, that exercise will resume when these new Portal devices are started, although you now have the option to say, "No thanks"

"If you have enabled storage, which is the default setting, then those can be judged by people, by a team of trained reviewers to improve voice services in general, "said a Facebook spokesperson. "They can of course be removed individually, or you can simply switch off the storage completely and then they cannot be checked or saved."

That is a good option – but many may prefer that human assessments are disabled by default and only available to those who sign up. So far, Apple is the only company that claims to follow that approach.

OK, so who listens?

In most cases, companies such as Facebook that have recognized human audio from user audio say they hire outside contractors for the job.

"There are suppliers who are really specialized in this and who are really good at this," explained a Facebook spokesperson. "Helping the right people judge voice transcripts makes the service a lot better. It makes it more inclusive."

But Facebook adds that company employees can also listen to user audio.

"There are specialists out there who are sellers," the spokesperson added. "We are happy to use them. They are under very strict protocols in terms of how we deal with them. But we also use a mix of employees when needed."

And what is "suitable"? I asked for Facebook, but I have not yet received a reply. I will update this space if that changes.

Each Portal device includes a physical shutter that can cover the camera lens when not in use. James Martin / CNET

Can I cover that camera?

Yes. You can cover the camera of any portal with a physical shutter when it is not in use.

Good for Facebook – that's better than the Google Nest Hub Max and the Amazon Echo Show who each skipped the shutter for a digital kill switch that turns the camera off electronically without covering it. At least Amazon seemed to realize that consumers were more comfortable with a shutter when it added one to their most recent smart display, the mini Echo Show 5 .

Facebook adds that the camera movement tracking functions and the microphone audio enhancement capabilities are all processed locally on every Portal device and never sent to the Facebook cloud. Meanwhile, Messenger calls are encrypted during transport and WhatsApp calls are encrypted end-to-end. Facebook emphasizes that it does not listen to, view or track the content of your Portal video calls.

What if I don't use it?

That's all good – but unless you've swapped them out or the shutter closed, the camera and the microphone are always on. Do they collect other information about you?

"When the Portal camera and microphone are turned on and you can operate, we collect camera and audio information," reads Facebook's additional data policy for its Portal devices. It then describes the information collected when you call, which Facebook says is the same information that was collected from other Messenger devices during calls.

"This information may include the volume level, the number of bytes received or the frame resolution & # 39 ;, reads the current policy. A new Facebook privacy policy document, which will take effect on October 15 (the launch day for the new Portal and Portal Mini) revises the language as follows:

"When we use the Portal camera or microphone to make a call, we collect technical information about your call such as volume level, number of bytes received or frame resolution. "

That sounds innocent enough, and in the latest version Facebook specifies a bit more to characterize the data as purely technical information, but I'm still skeptical by default when a company uses terms such as" can record "or" like " for detail the different types of data it collects, both sentences finally point to a non-exhaustive list, which raises an obvious follow-up question: can that list still contain anything?

And what about if you don't call? the device is simply connected to the counter there, does it then quietly take notes about your daily routine?

I asked Facebook these questions and some others about the data policy, but I have not received any answers, I will update this space if that changes.

In the interest of transparency, I pasted the text of Facebook & # 39; s data policy for Portal devices into a Google Doc and provided them with the exact questions that I have asked the company with regard to each section. You can view that document, along with what Facebook has and has not answered, by clicking here. From the moment I wrote this, the company has not answered any of my questions, but I will add those answers to each annotation as soon as I receive them.

  facial recognition-1010

Facebook faces a-action case about the use of face recognition on photos uploaded to the social network. It says that the cameras & # 39; s in Portal devices do not recognize faces at all.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Does Facebook follow my face?

Facebook has a long history with face recognition . Since 2010, the company has been using the technology to identify the faces in photos uploaded to its social network, for which you can choose for . Last year, claimants in Illinois, where the collection of face data is regulated by the Biometric Information Privacy Act, a class-action lawsuit against Facebook argued that the company violated user privacy by using face recognition without express permission. Last month, a federal appeals court rejected Facebook's bid for a 3-0 vote to cast the case, giving the company billions in potential damage.

But the cameras in the Facebook Portal devices do not use face recognition technology at all, the company says.

"We currently understand faces, but we do not understand your face," a Facebook spokesperson explained. "So we can look at the functions like eyes and mouth and things like that. It helps us place things like when you put on an AR mask, knowing how to put it on your face."

Facebook portal devices track facial features such as noses and eyes to place augmented reality masks over your face during video chats. But they don't follow or recognize individual faces, Facebook says. James Martin / CNET

That distinguishes the Portal devices from the Google Nest Hub Max that uses face recognition to show individual users personalized pieces of information from their Google accounts. Google calls the function Face Match and initially told us that all processing for this takes place locally on every user's device. That's true in real time when you use the function, but the small print of the product makes it clear that your face data is occasionally sent to the Google cloud so that it can make the function work in households with multiple users, so it can test new functions before they are pushed to users' devices.

"We occasionally use the images you provide during installation for a number of reasons to generate a face model in the cloud, all related to enhancing your product experience specifically on Nest Hub Max, and motivated by having more computing power available in the cloud, "said Google.

"This only uses the images that were originally created on the phone during the installation process," a Google spokesman emphasized. "All processing on our servers is temporary and all face models processed in the cloud are permanently discarded. The only function that has access to the registration images and subsequent face data is Face Match – this data is used for nothing else on the device

Is this thing going to affect the ads I see?

Yes Every time you use Facebook or a Facebook device such as the Portal, some of the fine print is that you agree to access data. share with the company, and that the company can use that data to target advertisements that may be relevant to your interests. "

" We collect the same information that other Facebook properties collect, "said a Facebook spokesperson." you use Facebook Watch, for example we know what you are watching and we use that to prioritize the things you want to show. And there are things that will be used for our advertising system there. "

The most important use of the Portal is video calls – do the calls you make affect the advertisements that come in your feed?

A video call with Portal TV.

Juan Garzon / CNET

"The best way to honestly think about this is that it is a mobile phone," said a Facebook spokesperson. "And it runs on Messenger, it runs on Facebook Watch and it runs on WhatsApp. And so it uses the same services in the same way that your phone uses those services. And so when you use Messenger, we are aware that you know, by whom the call was initiated and by whom the call was received and how long the call was, and you can imagine it informs advertisements on Facebook, such as & # 39; this is someone who makes video calls & # 39; [19659010] "That's relatively unlikely," the spokesperson added. The amount of data that we generate here is very, very small. It is certainly not material. It is certainly not the point of the product. But it is also something that could happen. "

Will Facebook share my data with the police?

Anything else that could happen – law enforcement that shows interest in people's Portal data. It happened earlier, when the FBI wanted to force Facebook to Tapping messenger voice conversations from MS-13 gang members Police have also shown a strong interest in data collected from other devices, including Alexa speakers and portable fitness trackers . [19659010InthecaseofthephonecallsfromthegangmembersFacebookarguedthatitcouldnotimplementtheFBI'srequirementsbecauseMessengerhasend-to-endcodingwhichmeansthatitmustcompletelyrewritetheapptodothisUltimatelytheMinistryofJusticefailedtoallowFacebooktobreakitsowncodingevenafteritwasallegedlydespisedthecompanyincourt

The current version of Facebook & # 39; s data policy for Portal devices do not mention law enforcement officers – but the new version, effective from October 15.

"We can also share voting interactions with third parties if we believe in good faith that the law requires us to do so," it says. [19659010] Originally published on September 18, 2019.
Update: October 4, 2019: Added additional comment from Google explaining Face Match's privacy practices.

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