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Google built a microphone into its Nest security system – and forgot to tell anyone

Published Feb 20th, 2019 7:06PM EST
Google Nest microphone
Image: Valeriya Zankovych

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Here’s one way to let users know that the gadget you sold them includes a microphone that you forgot to tell them about: You can announce an over-the-air software update that enables the microphone in the device to support a digital assistant triggered by voice commands. Presto. You didn’t know you bought something with a mike inside, and now you do.

In today’s installment of tech giants behaving badly, Google has found itself in hot water over news that its Nest Secure home security system has included a microphone this whole time which, it turns out, the company never disclosed was there. Nest Secure got an update earlier this month that essentially turned it into another Google Assistant device, which means — whoops, we forgot to tell you that, yeah, that means there’s a microphone inside.

Google shared a mea culpa with Business Insider about this, telling the publication that “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 company went on to explain that “the microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.”

Does that make you feel better? Who are we kidding, of course it doesn’t. This oversight will no doubt continue to feed fears among ordinary consumers that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the consumer electronics we’re surrounded by on the daily. The same way there’s an assumption that pretty much everything we do online is tracked, watched and analyzed.

Nest’s $500 home security system is only a year old, but there’s still something icky about people realizing they’ve inadvertently had a microphone in their home for a year or more that they didn’t know was there.

The Nest Secure system includes a collection of sensors, as well as a hub and a keypad for a security code. At least the product page now makes it clear there’s a microphone included as part of this system, though, as well as “built-in Google Assistant.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.