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When the original Amazon Echo device launched in November 2014, it kicked off a wave of "smart speaker" home appliances that connect people to AI like Alexa or the Google Assistant to let them stream music, send texts, make phone calls, and perform other digital tasks hands-free.

SEE: How to use Google Maps in Apple CarPlay: Think different

The second wave of this phenomenon is shaping up like this: Add a screen to the device and basically make it a stationary tablet.

In this vein, the millennial-focused financial news network Cheddar (Android, iOS) reports that Facebook is readying its own such device next week, dubbed Portal. It was intended to be announced in May, but the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal moved its timetable back by several months.

The prospect of Facebook (Android, iOS) having access to a video camera in your home (which is reportedly equipped with AI that can recognize and follow specific people within view of the lens) right after company CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been grilled by Congress on live TV apparently created an undesirable contrast.

In the interest of increasing user trust and privacy, Cheddar reports that the Portal will have a privacy shutter -- a widget that can slide over the device's video camera to block its view. It's not clear yet if Portal will also feature a mute button, which you can find at the top of your Echo Show or Google Home.

In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg was memorably spotted covering up his laptop's webcam and microphone jack in an impromptu photo, which some in the media called out as hypocritical, given Zuckerberg's famous mantra extolling maximal openness among his users. (On the other hand, if there's anyone at your company who you don't want to be getting secretly recorded, it's probably your CEO, due to how much sensitive business info they may be dealing with.)

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Like the Echo Show, the Portal is said to integrate with the Amazon Alexa AI, which users will chat with to stream videos and music, and get daily news briefs and recipes. It's not clear if this means that YouTube will be restricted on the Portal like it is on the Echo Show. Either way, Facebook will presumably be happy to provide more video content via its Watch platform.

(Disclosure: Facebook Watch is partnered with multiple CBS properties including CNET, of which Download.com is a subsidiary).

The device's integration with Facebook has yet to be uncovered, but it appears that the public will be getting a detailed presentation soon.

According to Cheddar, we can expect the device to cost between $300 to $400, depending on which of the two screen sizes you prefer. However, this could change in response to the new Echo Show unveiled this week at $230 for release on October 11 -- with a $100 discount if you buy a bundle of two.

The takeaways

  • Facebook is on the verge of announcing the Portal, a competitor to Amazon's Echo Show smart speaker, according to Cheddar.
  • The Portal will purportedly feature a privacy shutter to block the view of its video camera when not in use.

Also see

    Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.