Members of real estate—an industry in which technology has truly transformed the business in the last decade, and especially in the last few years alone—are constantly searching for ways to stay at the cutting edge of innovation. Similarly, tech companies are battling it out, releasing new tools and systems that overshadow previous iterations and competitors’ aging technology. The latest entrant? Facebook’s video-chat device, Portal.
What Is It?
Portal is much like a tablet, but it has a built-in camera and is integrated with Amazon’s Alexa. Its biggest claim is an intuitive system for hands-free video calling. It comes in two sizes: the regular Portal starts at $199 and has a 10.1-inch screen, while the more robust version, Portal+, starts at $349 and has a much larger 15.6-inch screen, with the added capability of rotating from portrait to landscape mode.
What makes it different from other video-chat devices? Facebook’s Portal is a sophisticated, AI-run device. The company collaborated with award-winning cinematographers to design how the virtual camera tracks movement with seamless transitions that flow and pan naturally, keeping the subject in constant focus without actually moving the device and allowing the user to move around freely during the chat.
Facebook is currently working on a similar device, codenamed Ripley, which would be simply placed over the television, converting it into a streaming device for optimal visibility. A launch date has not yet been announced (at press time)—product information was found in code hidden in Facebook’s Android app.
How Can It Be Used in Real Estate?
In an industry that features jam-packed schedules and quick communications to stay in touch, the flexibility to meet with consumers or fit in other activities is becoming somewhat strained. Juggling multiple buyers and running to various listing appointments can make it difficult for agents to get face time with their clients without sacrificing time with others and the quality of customer care they hope to provide.
Here’s how agents and brokers might adopt a video-chat device like Portal:
Mentoring/Coaching: For industry professionals that enjoy giving back to the REALTOR® community by providing coaching sessions, finding the time for these meetings can be tough. With Portal, industry members would have the freedom to teach from any location, and hands-free should they need to use instructional accessories, such as white boards or projectors, to help make their point.
Communications With Clients: This could be particularly useful for out-of-state clients. If they cannot meet with their agents in person to go over initial home search wants and needs, or to go over important transaction information, video chats allow agents to provide their clients with a more personalized experience, rather than communicating via phone or email and text. Additionally, being able to gauge emotional reactions via facial expressions can help agents have more effective conversations, such as with difficult topics like price reductions.
An Accessory for Day-to-Day Activities: Portal does have other capabilities. It can function as a digital photo frame, which would be useful for showcasing property information and photos during an open house or when meeting with clients. Additionally, agents can use the device to play music during open houses or to watch videos, which could be used for continuing education.
Are There Security Concerns?
With October National Cyber Security Awareness Month, it’s important to note whether these types of tools pose a privacy or security risk, or if steps have been taken to lock down information.
Facebook has implemented security protections for Portal; the company does not record calls, and encrypts all video chats. Additionally, the AI-powered camera and voice features run locally and do not live on Facebook servers. If users wish to erase their voice history (such as Alexa directives), they can do so manually. The device also features a button that disables the camera and microphone, and users can lock their device with a passcode.
There are concerns, however, as reported by Recode. While Facebook previously stated it would not be able to amass data through this device, Portal does have the ability to collect information via the Messenger app.
“Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e., usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices,” a Facebook spokesperson told Recode. “We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads.”
These concerns are particularly valid in the face of security breaches at Facebook. Most recently, spammers were able to access information, such as gender, birthdate, work, location and check-ins, from 29 million accounts. This event is the latest in a string of controversial episodes plaguing Facebook. While the vulnerabilities have been reportedly taken care of, agents and brokers should remain wary of the tools they use and the possible implications should another data hack arise.