Google has admitted that they made a mistake by not telling customers that one of their home alarm products contains a microphone.
Google has acknowledged that it made an error in not disclosing that their Nest Guard home security products contained a microphone. In early February, Google announced that the alarm system would now be compatible with Google Assistant on other devices. However, one thing didn’t figure – customers didn’t even know their alarm had a microphone in the first place.
The product spec for the home alarm system, which has been available since 2017, makes no mention of a microphone. Considering a recent string of eavesdropping scandals, you can understand why this made Nest Guard users feel uncomfortable. After being called out by an article released by Business Insider, Google has attempted to do some damage control.
In response to criticism, Google released a statement on Tuesday saying that the microphone was never meant to be a secret. The omission was an error on their part, and for that, they were sorry. In addition, Google reassured customers by saying:
“The microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option…Security systems often use microphones to provide features that rely on sound sensing. We included the mic on the device so that we can potentially offer additional features to our users in the future, such as the ability to detect broken glass.”
The company’s apology has been taken at face value by many commentators, however, it still raises concerns around security and privacy. For instance, UK-based privacy campaigners Big Brother Watch commented that this revelation shows that many of our anxieties about smart devices appear to be coming true. In a statement from their director, Silkie Carlo, the group suggested that it’s difficult to believe Google cares about privacy after the blunder:
“It is hard to believe Google cares about people’s privacy after selling a security product with a secret microphone in it…This appears to be deceptive rather than a ‘mistake’, which is incredibly damaging for public trust in Google. This market is normalizing the disturbing notion of tech giants constant listening within the privacy of our homes. Google should be held to account for wrongly advertising this product.”
Nest, originally known for selling smart thermostats, was bought out by Google in February 2014, for a reported $3.2bn. The Nest Guard is marketed as a high-tech home security system, acting as an alarm, keypad, and motion sensor. If you’re not too phased by the whole secret microphone thing, the system retails for $399.