Facebook employees caught leaving 5-star reviews for Portal on Amazon

A publicity image of the Facebook Portal smart display in a kitchen. Facebook

If you visit the Facebook Portal listing over at Amazon.com, you’ll find plenty of five-star reviews of the smart display product. However, what you might not know is that a small handful of those glowing reviews are actually from Facebook employees.

That’s what Kevin Roose — tech columnist for The New York Times — exposed on Twitter earlier today. Roose didn’t use any secret trickery to find the clearly-biased reviews, he simply checked the names: three prominent Facebook employees used their own, full names to review the product.

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Not only is it a violation of Amazon’s TOS for a company employee to write reviews for its own products, but it also makes Facebook look a bit desperate. After all, it’s not easy to sell a product designed to sit in your home with a camera attached to it when the company is constantly in the news for data and privacy violations.

To that end, Facebook’s vice president of AR/VR Andrew Bosworth tweeted back to Roose:

[These reviews were] neither coordinated nor directed from the company. From an internal post at the launch: “We, unequivocally, DO NOT want Facebook employees to engage in leaving reviews for the products that we sell to Amazon.” We will ask them to take down.”

Facebook Portal and its larger sibling Portal Plus are designed to act as an Alexa-powered smart speaker, a video-consumption device, as well as an easy way to have video chats through Facebook Messenger. Although you can easily turn the cameras and microphones off, Portal has had an uphill battle from the beginning since several Facebook privacy and security scandals have dominated headlines over the past year.

The Google Home Hub — another smart display released in 2018 — does not feature a camera.

Click the button below to buy a Facebook Portal — if you’re into that sort of thing.

10 tech predictions from the staff of Android Authority

2018 is almost at an end and it’s undoubtedly been an excellent year for smartphones. We’re already quickly gearing up for 2019’s early high profile releases, and — leaks aside — we’re pretty confident that our veteran industry status gives us a pretty good idea about what to expect.

Here are ten of the Android Authority staff’s best and most out-there predictions for what 2019 will hold.

Gaming phones become more competitive

If you hadn’t noticed, mobile gaming is a big thing, especially in China. So big in fact that we now have a number of dedicated gaming smartphones on the market, including the Razer Phone 2, Asus ROG Phone, and Xiaomi Black Shark.

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Cutting-edge processor specs alone aren’t going to be enough next year though, predicts our Luka Mlinar. Gaming phones need to offer more. That’s certainly true when you consider that every other flagship smartphone will be using the same chipset next year: the Snapdragon 855.

We could see better cooling systems, but gimmicks like “speed boost” gaming modes aren’t fooling anyone. Instead, gaming phones may morph to offer superior controllers, even higher screen refresh rates, better audio and feedback features, and perhaps even some more useful gaming software and ecosystem tools. Personally, I’m still waiting on a Sony Xperia Play reboot to gift us an awesome PlayStation phone.

Facebook will (unfortunately) be fine

2018 hasn’t been a good year for Facebook, nor for the privacy of its users. Scandal after scandal has hit the social network throughout 2018, yet it’s still standing firm. Facebook will keep on doing creepy things in 2019, so foresees Sam Moore.

I probably don’t need to remind you about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the U.S. Senate hearing50 million accounts hacked, the further data theft of 29 million users, exposing private photos, and recent revelations about granting message access to third-party companies. But I will. Honestly, it’s miraculous that the company hasn’t succumbed to any of this. I can only fathom that Facebook is so deeply integrated into people’s lives that they can’t bring themselves to rid of it.

If you’re looking for a healthy New Year’s resolution, at least give less of your precious personal data to Mark.

Also read: The biggest tech and mobile blunders of 2018

MOAR CAMERAS

The back of the Nokia 9. 91Mobiles/OnLeaks

If 2018 was the year of the triple camera, 2019 will be the year of the quad or even quintuple camera monster. Or so Android Authority’s Joe Hindy and Williams Pelegrin predict.

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The introduction of telephoto, wide-angle, monochrome, and depth sensor camera combinations pushed smartphone photography capabilities up another notch this year. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see manufacturers throw everything they can at both front and rear camera setups in 2019. Samsung already has a quad-camera phone with its Galaxy A9 2018 edition, and flagship models could go even further.

Heck, if that crazy Nokia 9 leak turns out to be true we could be looking at our first penta-camera sometime next year. That would make triple cameras look positively pedestrian. But will it be better than a Pixel?

Farewell bezels, hello holes

Honor View20 selfie camera

Display holes (is that seriously what we’re calling them?) are a safe bet for 2019, so it’s not surprising that a few of our staff suggested this one. We all know Samsung’s Infinity-O display is in production and have already had our first look at the Honor View 20 and its display hole. Expect a number of 2019 smartphones to come sporting this new look.

These advances in display slicing technology open the door for some cool new technological tricks to replace the notch. In-display cameras are a given, but manufacturers could also hide many more sensors, such as 3D facial scanning, into these holes.

We’ve also seen our first in-display fingerprint scanners hit the market this year and Samsung’s UPS display technology suggests it has found a way to embed cameras inside panels too. Perhaps manufacturers will hide other bits of front-facing technology seamlessly into the display in 2019. All in all, these trends probably mean even thinner bezels for 2019’s smartphones too.

Cryptocurrency finally gets a useful dApp, or it dies

I think this was a serious suggestion from Tristan Rayner, but who can be sure when it comes to the apparently infinite, reality-defying possibilities of blockchain?

Despite this year’s major setbacks for the valuations of popular cryptocurrencies, the fundamentals of secure open ledgers and decentralized applications remain appealing. 2019 could finally be the year that a breakthrough application (dApp) that relies on blockchain appears. Perhaps complete with its own currency to keep the data crunching ticking over.

Luka isn’t so optimistic about cryptocurrencies, and who can blame him after the Bitcoin bubble appeared to burst early last year. $17.1k to just $3.7k over the last twelve months certainly looks like curtains for the coin’s mainstream popularity. 2019 could well be the year that decides the fate of cryptocurrencies. Either a breakthrough dApp appears to renew faith, or the idea continues its gradual decline into irrelevance.

Just please, no more attempts at a blockchain phone. OK, everyone?

Battery life won’t get any better (sadly)

Adam Molina points out that we’re probably not looking at longer battery life next year. A disappointing prediction given that this is consistently one of the most requested updates to phones each year.

But with battery sizes gradually increasing and smartphone processors moving on to more efficiency 7nm processes, you’re probably wondering why we’re not predicting a revolution in battery life.

First is that manufacturers keep finding new ways to consume these power savings. Be that a higher performing processor and higher quality gaming, brighter and higher resolution displays, new power consuming content like HDR video, more power hungry multi-camera setups, and 5G. Secondly, because even a generous 20-percent boost to battery life might only add an hour of screen on time to many phones. That’s obviously a good thing, but even for the best phones that last a whole day that extra hour or even two isn’t going to make up the difference to the next milestone: multi-day battery life.

Sorry about this one.

We’ll still be waiting for Android Pie updates

Hadlee Simons is similarly pessimistic in his expectations for 2019 — many of us are going to be sat hammering that refresh button for our Android Pie update.

Hadlee has a pretty good point. Despite the introduction of Project Treble for Oreo-based devices, we haven’t seen the biggest manufacturers offer vastly faster update times to Android Pie. Huawei might just squeeze in its updates before the end of the year, but Samsung, LG, HTC, and others haven’t pushed out their updates to many customers yet, with the exception of a few preview programs.

Instead, the lesser known OEMs with a smaller number of handsets to support have been doing a better job. Essential and OnePlus being notably quick adopters, along with other stock-like OS manufacturers. Unfortunately even Treble doesn’t appear to have encouraged big manufacturers to put the necessary resources into pushing out faster software updates for their phones. Mid-range handsets also appear to still be forgotten about too.

We’ll find at least two more ways to complain about the notch

Hopefully, 2018 won’t be remembered as the year of the notch. Although not universally loathed, it’s definitely one of the more contentious adoptions in the smartphone space this year — so much so that the notch has spawned more than its share of memes and jokes over the last year and a bit.

We’ve heard it all this year, from it’s downright ugly (I’m looking at you Pixel 3 XL) to that it makes phones look like shameless iPhone clones. There have also been plenty of complaints about some of the software the tweaks made to Android Pie, such as the clock position, to accommodate the notch. You folks certainly know what you don’t like.

Our Executive Editor Kris Carlon reckons that we’ll find at least two new things to hate about the notch next year. Better get cracking.

Phones with 16GB of RAM

Our own Feliks Mangus predicts that we could see smartphones packing in a whopping 16GB of RAM hit shelves in 2019. This would undoubtedly be overkill, but is it possible?

The swanky OnePlus 6T McLaren edition comes in a crazy 10GB RAM variant. The newly announced Lenovo Z5 Pro GT already promises 12GB of RAM paired up with a brand new Snapdragon 855 SoC and we’re still not even into 2019’s major smartphone announcements.

While 8GB probably seems like a sensible limit for most flagship smartphones, we’ll surely see some manufacturers push the RAM count even higher. If only to grab headlines rather than offer up revolutionary performance.

5G signal on Galaxy Note 8

5G doesn’t live up to the hype

Both Tristan and I are calling this one now: 5G isn’t going to be the game changer for smartphones that many companies are eagerly hyping up.

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If you recall the rollout of 4G LTE, you already know what to expect. Only certain cities will see the technology first and even then coverage will be spotty at best. Couple this with the unknowns about smartphone form factors and, more importantly, battery life and those first 5G smartphones might not be so appealing either.

That said, 5G works. It’s going to have some interesting use cases for home and business internet access, and eventually mass IoT and all that other jargon too. But for smartphones, 2019’s 5G wireless rollout will probably be a muted experience for most of us. Unless you’re that crazy person streaming 4K HDR video to your tiny 6-inch display outside a mmWave base station in downtown New York.

What about your predictions?

That’s enough from us, what are your biggest predictions for smartphones, and tech in general, in 2019?

Next: 2019 will be a great year for smartwatches and fitness trackers — here’s why

Facebook let Netflix, Spotify read your private messages

  • Facebook reportedly gave tech companies deep access to your user data.
  • The social network is said to have given Netflix and Spotify the ability to read your messages.
  • A Facebook executive insisted that these privileges were necessary for Spotify.

Facebook has endured a tumultuous 2018 in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, government hearings, and a host of other privacy-related matters. But the bad news isn’t over just yet, as it transpires the company may have given tech firms access to your most confidential information.

According to the New York Times, citing internal documents and interviews with former employees, the social network gave tech companies deep access to user data. One example cited by the outlet was Microsoft’s Bing search engine being able to see the names of all your Facebook friends without your consent.

But probably the most invasive move cited in the story was Facebook’s decision to let Spotify and Netflix read your private messages. The outlet reported that the two companies, along with the Royal Bank of Canada, also had the ability to write and delete users’ private messages.

Why would firms need these privileges?

Netflix and Spotify representatives told the New York Times that they didn’t know they had access to these abilities, while a Royal Bank of Canada spokesperson disputed the claim outright.

The New York Times noted Spotify lets users share music via Facebook Messenger — a feature that might require read/write access to a user’s messages. But it added that Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada no longer have features that might require this permission. Additionally, the New York Times noted that these privileges “appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems.”

The publication also took Facebook to task for not directly telling users it was sharing user data with partners. “Many of the partners’ applications never even appeared in Facebook’s user application settings,” the Times noted.

Facebook director of developer platforms and programs Konstantinos Papamiltiadis responded to the claims in a blog post. The executive confirmed that partners gained access to messages, but said that “people had to explicitly sign in to Facebook first to use a partner’s messaging feature.”

The executive used Spotify as an example: “After signing in to your Facebook account in Spotify’s desktop app, you could then send and receive messages without ever leaving the app. Our API provided partners with access to the person’s messages in order to power this type of feature.”

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Nevertheless, even if these permissions were indeed required in order to enable a partner’s functionality, it doesn’t explain why the likes of Netflix and Royal Bank of Canada still had these controls. After all, if you don’t have features that require these permissions, then you don’t need said permissions in the first place, right? It also doesn’t explain why many partner applications don’t appear in a Facebook user’s app settings menu, as the outlet claims.

A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times it found no evidence of data abuse by its partners. But the spokesperson also acknowledged that they had failed to revoke access to certain privileges when companies no longer needed them.

To be fair, it’s not unheard of for an app to require permissions related to your messages. For example, third-party SMS apps need read/write/delete permissions in order to fulfill its duties. Some apps running on older versions of Android require the ability to read text messages in order to automatically fill one-time PINs. However, these permissions are usually clearly communicated to the user upon installation or when they’re required for the first time — and you can always visit your settings menu to revoke access.

NEXT: The most underrated smartphones of 2018

Facebook users are being kicked out of their accounts and unable to log back in

Facebook down login issue

Facebook users are being dumped out of their accounts and unable to sign back in. The login issue appears to have started at around 9AM PT, with thousands of Facebook users rushing to other social media sites to complain about the outage.

Judging by outrage report websites, it seems as though the main victims of the login error are based in Europe, although there are some spikes in India and parts of North America.

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It’s not clear what the actual problem is at this stage, but it all starts with being automatically signed out of Facebook when you visit the social media site or use the Facebook app.

Several Android Authority staff members with Facebook accounts managed to replicate the problem and were unable to get back into their accounts — instead being met with a “Page is unavailable” message.

Other Facebook users posting on Twitter have noted that attempting to reset their password using a code but were still unable to login after the reset.

We’ll be keeping an eye out for a fix, but in the meantime you might want to check your account to see if you’re affected.

This is a developing post which will be updated when we have more information…