Google says the built-in microphone it never told Nest users about was 'never supposed to be a secret'
- In early February, Google announced that Assistant would now work with its home security and alarm system Nest Secure.
- The problem - users didn't know a microphone even existed on their Nest security devices to begin with.
- On Tuesday, a Google spokesperson told Business Insider it had made an "error."
- "The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part," the spokesperson said.
In early February, Google announced that its home security and alarm system Nest Secure would be getting an update - users could now enable its virtual assistant technology, Google Assistant.
The problem: Nest users didn't know a microphone even existed on their security device to begin with.
The existence of a microphone on the Nest Guard (which is the alarm, keypad, and motion sensor component in the Nest Secure offering) was never disclosed in any of the product material for the device.
On Tuesday, a Google spokesperson told Business Insider the company had made an "error."
"The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part," the spokesperson said.
Google says that "the microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option."
It also said the microphone was originally included in the Nest Guard for the possibility of adding new security features down the line, like the ability to detect broken glass.
Still, even if Google included the microphone in its Nest Guard device for future updates - like its Assistant integration - the news comes as consumers have grown increasingly wary of major tech companies and their commitment to consumer privacy.
For Google, the revelation is particularly problematic and brings to mind previous privacy controversies, such as the 2010 incident in which the company admitted that its fleet of Street View cars "accidentally" collected personal data transmitted over consumers' unsecured WiFi networks, including emails.
If @Google's @Nest Secure devices really had secret microphones that they hid from consumers, those consumers should probably be forgiven if they don't trust the company's after-the-fact promises that it never spied on them. #DontBeEvil https://t.co/sZsFC31zdV via @csoonline— Tom Zeller Jr. (@tomzellerjr) February 20, 2019
Google bought Nest - which was initially known for its smart thermostat device - back in 2014 for $3.2 billion (R45 billion). It became a standalone company in 2015 when Google reorganized as Alphabet, but in February 2018, it was brought back into Google under the leadership of head hardware exec Rick Osterloh.
Today, Nest offers a variety of IoT products including smoke detectors, video doorbells, and security cameras.
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