Google says it put hidden microphone in home alarm system and didn't tell customers

Listening feature 'was never intended to be a secret', Google claims

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 20 February 2019 14:05 GMT
Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies to Congress over privacy and data collection

Google has admitted to installing hidden microphones in a home product and not telling customers they were there.

The company says it never meant to keep the listening devices a secret and they had only been left of the box because of an "error".

The Nest Secure alarm system did not include the microphone as part of its specifications but it was "never intended to be a secret", parent company Google said.

The hardware feature came to light after Google announced a software update to the Nest Secure system would enable it to use its voice-activated helper, Google Assistant, which is powered by artificial intelligence to answer queries and commands.

Until then, the product web page for the device did not say it contained a microphone. It has since been updated.

A Google spokesman said: "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 Nest Secure alarm system

The device is part of what Google calls its Nest alarm system starter pack, providing users with motion sensors and a keypad to create a bespoke home security set-up.

Silkie Carlo, director of UK-based privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the incident would do little to help public trust around smart home devices.

"It is hard to believe Google cares about people's privacy after selling a security product with a secret microphone in it," she said.

"This appears to be deceptive rather than a 'mistake', which is incredibly damaging for public trust in Google. Many of our worries about smart home devices appear to be proving true.

"This market is normalising 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."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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