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A fictional Facebook Portal videochat with Mark Zuckerberg – TechCrunch

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TechCrunch: Hey Portal, dial Mark

Portal: Do you mean Mark Zuckerberg?

TC: Yes

Portal: Dialling Mark…


TC: Hi Mark! Nice choice of grey t-shirt.

MZ: Uh, new phone who dis? — oh, hi, er, TechCrunch…

TC: Thanks for agreeing to this entirely fictional interview, Mark!

MZ: Sure — anytime. But you don’t mind if I tape over the camera do you? You see I’m a bit concerned about my privacy here at, like, home

TC: We feel you, go ahead.

As you can see, we already took the precaution of wearing this large rubber face mask of, well, of yourself Mark. And covering the contents of our bedroom with these paint-splattered decorator sheets.

MZ: Yeah, I saw that. It’s a bit creepy tbh

TC: Go on and get all taped up. We’ll wait.

[sound of Mark calling Priscilla to bring the tape dispenser]

[Portal’s camera jumps out to assimilate Priscilla Chan into the domestic scene, showing a generous vista of the Zuckerbergs’ living room, complete with kids playing in the corner. Priscilla, clad in an oversized dressing gown and with her hair wrapped in a big fluffy towel, can be seen gesticulating at the camera. She is also coughing]

Priscilla to Mark: I already told you — there’s a camera cover built into into Portal. You don’t need to use tape now

MZ: Oh, right, right!

Okay, going dark! Wow, that feels better already

[sound of knuckles cracking]

TC: So, Mark, let’s talk hardware! What’s your favorite Amazon Echo?

MZ: Uh, well…

TC: We’d guess one with all the bells & whistles, right? There’s definitely something more than a little Echo Show-y about Portal

MZ: Sure, I mean. We think Alexa is a great product

TC: Mhmm. Do you remember when digital photo frames first came out? They were this shiny new thing about, like, a decade ago? One of those gadgets your parents buy you around Thanksgiving, which ends up stuck in a drawer forever?

MZ: Yeah! I think someone gave me one once with a photo of me playing beer pong on it. We had it hanging in the downstairs rest room for the longest time. But then we got an Android tablet with a Wi-Fi connection for in there, so…

TC: Now here we are a decade or so later with Portal advancing the vision of what digital photo frames can be!

MZ: Yeah! I mean, you don’t even have to pick the pictures! It’s pretty awesome. This one here — oh, right you can’t see me but let me describe it for you — this one here is of a Halloween party I went to one year. Someone was dressed as SpongeBob. I think they might have been called Bob, actually… And this is, like, some other Facebook friends doing some other fun stuff. Pretty amazing.

You can also look at album art

TC: But not YouTube, right? But let’s talk about video calling

MZ: It’s an amazing technology

TC: It sure is. Skype, FaceTime… live filters, effects, animoji…

MZ: We’re building on a truly great technology foundation. Portal autozooming means you don’t even have to think about watching the person you’re talking to! You can just be doing stuff in your room and the camera will always be adjusting to capture everything you’re doing! Pretty amazing.

TC: Doing what Mark? Actually, let’s not go there

MZ: Portal will even suggest people for you to call! We think this will be a huge help for our mission to promote Being Well — uh, I mean Time Well Spent because our expert machine learning algorithms will be nudging you to talk to people you should really be talking to

TC: Like my therapist?

MZ: Uh, well, it depends. But our AI can suggest personalized meaningful interactions by suggesting Messenger contacts to call up

TC: It’s not going to suggest I videchat my ex is it?

MZ: Haha! Hopefully not. But maybe your mom? Or your grandma?

TC: Sounds incredibly useful. Well, assuming they didn’t already #deletefacebook.

But let’s talk about kids

MZ: Kids! Yeah we love them. Portal is going to be amazing for kids

TC: You have this storybook thing going on, right? Absent grandparents using Portal to read kids bedtime stories and what not…

MZ: Right! We think kids are going to love it. And grandparents! We’ve got these animal masks if you get bored of looking at your actual family members. It’s good, clean, innovative fun for all the family!

TC: Yeah, although, I mean, nothing beats reading from an actual kid’s book, right?

MZ: Well…

TC: If you do want to involve a device in your kid’s bedtime there are quite a lot of digital ebook apps for that already. Apple has a whole iBooks library of the things with read-aloud narration, for example.

And, maybe you missed this — but quite a few years ago there was a big bunch of indie apps and services all having a good go at selling the same sort of idea of ‘interactive remote reading experiences’ for families with kids. Though not many appear to have gone the distance. Which does sort of suggest there isn’t a huge unmet need for extra stuff beyond, well, actual children’s books and videochat apps like Skype and FaceTime.

Also, I mean, children’s story reading apps and interactive kids’ e-books are pretty much as old as the hills in Internet terms at this point. So, er, you’re not really moving fast and breaking things are you!?

MZ: Actually we’re more focused on stable infrastructure these days

TC: And hardware too, apparently. Which is a pretty radical departure for Facebook. All those years everyone thought you were going to do a Facebook phone but you left it to Amazon to flop into that pit… Who needs hardware when you can put apps and tracker pixels on everything, right?!

But here you are now, kinda working with Amazon for Portal — while also competing with Alexa hardware by selling your own countertop device… Aren’t you at all nervous about screwing this up? Hardware IS hard. And homes have curtains for a reason…

MZ: We’re definitely confident kids aren’t going to try swivelling around on the Portal Plus like it’s a climbing frame, if that’s what you mean. Well, hopefully not anyway

TC: But about you, Facebook Inc, putting an all-seeing-eye-cum-Internet-connected-listening-post into people’s living rooms and kids’ bedrooms…

MZ: What about it?

[MZ speaking to someone else in the room] Does the speaker have an off switch? How do I mute this thing?

TC: Hello? Mark?

[silence]

[sound comes back on briefly and a snatch of conversation can be heard between Mark and Priscilla about the need to buy more diapers. Mark is then heard shouting across the room that his Shake Shack order of a triple cheeseburger and fries plus butterscotch malt is late again]

[silence] 

[crackle and a congested throat clearing sound. A child is heard in the background asking for Legos]

MZ: Not now okay honey. Okay hon-, uh, hello — what were you saying?

TC: Will you be putting a Portal in Max’s room?

MZ: Haha! She’d probably prefer Legos

TC: August?

MZ: She’s only just turned one

TC: Okay, let’s try a more direct question. Do you at all think that you, Facebook Inc,

might have a problem selling a $200+ piece of Internet-connected hardware when your company is known for creeping on people to sell ads?

MZ: Oh no, no! — we’ve, like, totally thought of that!

Let me read you what marketing came up with. Hang on, it’s around here somewhere…

[sound of paper rustling]

Here we go [reading]:

Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.

For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.

Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, ‘Hey Portal.’ You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

Pretty cool, huh!

TC: Just to return to your stable infrastructure point for a second, Mark — did you mean Facebook is focused on security too? Because, well, your company keeps leaking personal data like a sieve holds water…

MZ: We think of infrastructure as a more holistic concept. And, uh, as a word that sounds reassuring

TC: Okay, so of course you can’t 100% guarantee Portal against hacking risks, though you’re taking precautions by encrypting calls. But Portal might also ‘accidentally’ record stuff adults and kids say in the home — i.e. if its ‘Hey Portal’ local listening function gets triggered when it shouldn’t. And it will then be 100% up to a responsible adult to find their way through Facebook’s labyrinthine settings and delete those wiretaps, won’t it?

MZ: You can control all your information, yes

TC: The marketing bumpf also doesn’t spell out what Facebook does with ‘Hey Portal’ voice recordings, or the personal insights your company is able to glean from them, but Facebook is in the business of profiling people for ad targeting purposes so we must assume that any and all voice commands and interactions, with the sole exception of the contents of videocalls, will go into feeding that beast.

So the metadata of who you talk to via Portal, what you listen to and look at (minus any Alexa-related interactions that you’ve agreed to hand off to Amazon for its own product targeting purposes), and potentially much more besides is all there for Facebook’s taking — given the kinds of things that an always-on listening device located in a domestic setting could be accidentally privy to.

Then, as more services get added to Portal, more personal behavioral data will be generated and can be processed by Facebook for selling ads.

MZ: Well, I mean, like I told that Senator we do sell ads

TC: And smart home hardware too now, apparently.

One more thing, Mark: In Europe, Facebook didn’t used to have face recognition technology switched on did it?

MZ: We had it on pause for a while

TC: But you switched it back on earlier this year right?

MZ: Facebook users in Europe can choose to use it, yes

TC: And who’s in charge of framing that choice?

MZ: Uh, well we are obviously

TC: We’d like you to tap on the Portal screen now, Mark. Tap on the face you can see to make the camera zoom right in on this mask of your own visage. Can you do that for us?

MZ: Uh, sure

[sound of a finger thudding against glass]

MZ: Are you seeing this? It really is pretty creepy!

Or — I mean — it would be if it wasn’t so, like, familiar…

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

[sound of a child crying]

Priscilla to Mark: Eeeew! Turn that thing off!

TC: Thanks Mark. We’ll leave you guys to it.

Enjoy your Shake Shack. Again.


Portal: Thanks for calling Mark, TechCrunch! Did you enjoy your Time Well Spent?

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macOS 12 Monterey: The Ars Technica review

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Big Sur was a landmark release of macOS, in ways both technical and symbolic. It introduced a major new redesign, it was the first version of macOS to run on Apple’s own in-house processors in addition to Intel’s, and it was the first version of macOS in nearly 20 years to change the version number. Coming off that, this year’s release was bound to feel a little small.

Welcome to Monterey, macOS version 12.0.

Monterey feels of a piece with maintenance-mode macOS updates like El Capitan or Sierra or High Sierra—change the default wallpaper, and in day-to-day use you can easily forget that you’ve upgraded from Big Sur at all. It’s not that there aren’t any new features here—it’s just that improving any operating system as mature as macOS involves a lot of tinkering around the edges.

But there are plenty of things to talk about in even the most minor of macOS releases, and Monterey is no different. The update refines the Big Sur design and rethinks automation and what’s possible via local wireless communication between devices. It also makes a long list of minor additions that won’t be exciting for everyone but will be interesting for some subset of Mac users.

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LG is apparently working on its first Chromebook

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The market for Chromebooks is generally growing this year despite recent pandemic-related slowdowns, and it looks like more PC vendors are interested in releasing Chrome OS devices. The next in line may be LG.

On October 18, a filing was listed with the Bluetooth SIG, the special interest group that awards Bluetooth certifications, for an “LG Chromebook.” The listing, spotted by Chrome Unboxed, doesn’t give us much further information. The device’s model number is “11TC50Q,” and the machine should have some version of Bluetooth 5.

Without any official word from LG, we can’t be sure that the product exists. But since the company went through the effort of getting Bluetooth certification from Bluetooth SIG, an LG-branded Chromebook is far from a pipe dream. Plus, it would make sense for LG to release a Chromebook.

LG has its hands in many pots, from kitchen appliances to high-end TVs, audio solutions, and even solar panels. LG’s current PC lineup is centered on its Gram series of ultralight laptops. Since Chromebooks employ low-power parts, heat can be more manageable, allowing for thin and fanless designs. This also makes them a good option for travel.

As noted by Chrome Unboxed, LG made a Chrome OS-based all-in-one PC, aka a Chromebase, in 2014 but couldn’t compete with Windows and macOS rivals.

LG Chromebase 22CV241-W.
Enlarge / LG Chromebase 22CV241-W.

If LG does release a Chromebook, it will be interesting to see if it gets LG’s Gram branding. Currently, all of LG’s Gram laptops are thin-and-lights with Intel chips. The brand also makes a couple of AMD Ryzen-powered clamshells with LG Ultra PC branding. An LG Gram Chromebook would imply Intel chips.

Alternatively, LG could end the idea of its Gram laptops needing to be part of the Intel Evo certification program for ultrabooks and let the Chromebook stand on the names of LG and Chromebook alone—or even launch a new brand just for Chrome OS devices. LG’s AMD PCs start at an MSRP of $800, while the cheapest Gram-branded PC starts at $1,000.

An LG Chromebook would bring Google’s OS pretty close to ubiquity among all major US PC brands, though Razer, MSI, and Microsoft don’t sell Chromebooks.

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Employees pleaded with Facebook to stop letting politicians bend rules

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Enlarge / One hundred cardboard cutouts of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018.

Saul Loeb | Getty Images

Facebook’s senior executives interfered to allow US politicians and celebrities to post whatever they wanted on its social network despite pleas from employees to stop, leaked internal documents suggest.

Employees claim in the documents that while Facebook has long insisted that it is politically neutral, it allowed rightwing figures to break rules designed to curb misinformation and harmful content, after being stung by accusations of bias from conservatives.

In September 2020, just ahead of the US presidential election, the author of an internal memo wrote that “director-level employees” had “written internally that they would prefer to formally exclude political considerations from the decision-making process.”

The author called for the company’s leadership to create a “firewall” around its content moderation teams to stop this from happening and to make sure Facebook did not keep up or take down posts because of external political and media pressure.

In another internal note, dated December 2020, an employee claimed that Facebook’s public policy team blocked decisions to take down posts “when they see that they could harm powerful political actors.”

“In multiple cases the final judgment about whether a prominent post violates a certain written policy are made by senior executives, sometimes Mark Zuckerberg,” the author added, referring to Facebook’s chief executive. Parts of the note were previously reported by BuzzFeed.

In a further example from 2019, Zuckerberg was alleged to have been personally involved in a decision to allow a video that made the false claim that abortion is “never medically necessary.”

The post, which had been taken down by a moderator, was reinstated following complaints by Republican politicians, the document said.

The documents, part of a wider cache dubbed the Facebook Papers, were disclosed to US regulators and provided to Congress in redacted form by the legal counsel of whistleblower Frances Haugen. A consortium of news organisations, including the Financial Times, has obtained the redacted versions received by Congress.

Facebook declined to respond to queries about the outcome of any discussions about separating its content team from the policy and communications teams.

Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson, said: “At the heart of these stories is a premise which is false. Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie. The truth is we’ve invested $13bn and have over 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on Facebook.”

Staff told to aim for ‘“unimpeachable neutrality”

A former Facebook executive told the FT that Zuckerberg had long told staff to aim for what he called “unimpeachable neutrality.”

This was important particularly around US political groups, employees were told, because the company did not want to be accused of breaking campaign rules by giving a donation in kind.

But three other former employees said they had observed how Facebook applied its own rules in an inconsistent and haphazard way, with special treatment for celebrities.

One former integrity team employee said: “For the people running Facebook, it seems like they care much more about not appearing biased than actually not being biased. Often their efforts at the former make the latter worse.”

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