Google accused of breaching privacy rights

Google has admitted that it was a mistake to not tell consumers that one of its home alarm gadgets was equipped with a microphone.

Instructions accompanying the Nest Guard, released in 2017, did not disclose that the product had the capabilities to listen in on its owners. Then an update released at the start of February revealed that new software features would enable users to control the product through voice commands.

On Twitter, Nest said that the microphone had “not been used up to this point,” Business Insider reported.

One of the Nest Secure range of home security products, the Nest Guard holds an array of sensors to facilitate remote monitoring. The all-in-one alarm only had the word “microphone” added to its features this month in a change that coincided with the product’s new compatibility with Google Assistant.

Google responded to critics by distancing itself from any notion of surveillance on its customers:

“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 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 tech giant added.

Many onlookers have accepted Google’s interpretation, but the fact that it has taken two years for users to discover that Nest has a microphone fitted to it, has some worried that privacy rights are being violated.

As reported by the BBC, Nick Heer, a writer for Pixel Envy blog, said:

“This is the kind of thing that makes me paranoid of smart home devices.”

“If I owned one of these things and found out that the world’s biggest advertising company hid a microphone in my home for a year, I’d be livid.”

Big Brother Watch, a privacy campaign group in the UK reacted:

“Many of our worries about smart home devices appear to be proving true… Google should be held to account for wrongly advertising this product.”

Consumers in the US were the first to get their hands on the Nest Guard last year, while European and Canadian customers can buy the product this year.


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