Facebook admits new smart devices allow people to listen in

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Facebook had admitted people will be allowed to listen in to audio captured by its new smart devices, despite stopping the controversial practice in its Messenger app.

The tech giant has announced its own competitor to the likes of the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Google Chromecast, which will also include video calling as a headline feature.

Facebook has also revealed that the range of Portal products will support allowing human teams to review audio of user interactions with its voice assistant, despite recent privacy concerns over the practice.

Image: The Portal TV will allow for video calling. Pic: Facebook

Much like Alexa from Amazon, questions can be asked and commands given by saying the phrase “Hey Portal”.

The device will then send a recording and transcript of the interaction to Facebook, where “a trained team may review a sample to make our voice services smarter and more accurate for everyone”.

Facebook insists Portal will allow users to disable the camera and microphone, and there will also be a physical cover to completely block the camera lens itself.

The AI powering the device also runs locally instead of on Facebook servers, and an activity log will keep track of voice interactions – which can be played back and deleted.

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Voice storage can also be turned off completely.

Facebook has included a host of options in a bid to downplay concerns, but support for human audio review reverses a recent decision to halt the practice completely in its Messenger app.

Users opted in via the Messenger app

Image: Facebook recently stopped using contractors to review audio taken from its Messenger app

Last month, Facebook admitted using contractors to listen to and transcribe recordings of Messenger users without their knowledge after people who worked on the project spoke publicly about their experience.

Users did have to opt-in to having their audio clips reviewed, but only expected it to be done by an AI.

Facebook told Sky News it had stopped the practice soon after, following in the footsteps of many of its rivals that had also come under scrutiny for employing human audio review.

Amazon halted the practice after staff reported hearing “distressing” recordings by Alexa assistants, and Apple recently changed its policy to allow users to opt out of having their interactions with Siri recorded.

Google has done the same with its own assistant, and Microsoft told Sky News it no longer used people to review clips from Xbox One consoles unless it involves gamers who are reported for violating its terms of service.

The lack of response to gender-based insults can reinforce a "boys will boys" attitude, the report notes

Image: Other voice assistants like Apple’s Siri have come under scrutiny in recent months

Facebook will hope privacy concerns do not have too much of an impact on interest in its range of Portal devices, which launch in the US and Canada in October and November – priced between $129 (£103) and $179 (£143).

Each will include Messenger and WhatsApp calling, with the TV edition also boasting support for streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Spotify

The Portal lineup is coming the UK at a later date.

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