Facebook Brings Workplace to Portal Devices, Moving in on WebEx, Skype, and Zoom’s Teleconference Turf

When Facebook introduced its Portal video chat devices in 2018, it marketed them as a way for families and friends to keep in touch. Now the social network wants the workplace to use Portal, too.

Facebook announced Tuesday that it is bringing Workplace, its collaboration service, to Portal devices such as the Portal Mini, Portal, and Portal+ so users can make audio and video calls. The move effectively pits Facebook against Microsoft’s Skype, Cisco’s WebEx, Zoom, and other comparable services.

“Over the past year, we’ve been working on ways to serve people across the enterprise, including frontline workers, which make up 80% of the world’s workforce,” Karandeep Anand, vice president and head of Facebook Workplace, said in a statement. “We’re making it easier for these employees to do great work by helping them to connect to their organizations through mobile in a secure way.”

Facebook’s three-year-old Workplace is the social network’s first attempt at cornering part of the enterprise market with a service aimed at reducing email use by letting employees message each other and keep track of company announcements. Although Workplace closely resembles the original social network’s experience, with a News Feed of its own, as well as private groups for smaller discussions, Workplace accounts aren’t linked to the employee’s personal Facebook profiles. Workplace is free to try, with a premium “Advanced” version that charges $4 per employee per month.

While Facebook has not disclosed the number of Portal devices it has sold to date, the social network likely faces an uphill battle convincing at least some users and businesses to rely on it for video and voice chats, given Facebook’s very public battle with D.C. lawmakers over privacy.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged in March 2018, in which it was revealed that voting profile firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to the information of up to 87 million Facebook users, other revelations regarding Facebook data breaches have emerged, as well. In late September 2018, the social network reported that nearly 50 million Facebook users were impacted by a security issue that allowed attackers to directly take over their accounts. Likewise, this April, over 540 million records about Facebook users were publicly exposed on Amazon Web Services, according to a report from cybersecurity firm UpGuard.

Still, Facebook’s move on Tuesday makes some strategic sense, given the in-roads the social network has made with Workplace. Since Facebook introduced Workplace in October 2016, the service has signed up more than 3 million paid users—up from 2 million-plus users eight months ago—including Walmart, Heinekin, Virgin Atlantic, Spotify, Nestlé and Delta Air Lines, according to Facebook. What remains to be seen is whether those same businesses also embrace the social network’s video chat devices.

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