Google’s Nest Secure isn’t so secure after all; has secret built-in microphone

Google's Nest Secure boasts a secret built-in microphone
Photo courtesy of Nest

In one of the more inexplicable tech industry goofs in recent memory, it has been reported that Google did not disclose the fact that parts of its home security system come with built-in microphones.

Created by Alphabet subsidiary Nest Labs, Nest Secure is a smart home security system comprised of a keypad hub, various motion detectors, and a key fob. Though not previously listed, the Nest keypad, called Nest Guard, comes with an embedded microphone.

On Feb. 6, Google released an update for its artificial intelligence agent Google Assistant that allowed it to interface with Nest Guard. The update announcement revealed the existence of the heretofore unknown microphones.

Google has since updated the Nest Guard product page to mention the embedded microphone. The tech giant has also issued a statement noting that the nondisclosure was an “error” and that the Nest Guard’s mic had not been active by default, only turning on when users enable the feature through Google Assistant.

The Other Nest Secret Microphone Incident

Improbably enough, this is actually the second secret microphone issue to affect the Nest Guard system in as many months. Last month, two different families had their Nest systems accessed by hackers.

In one incident, the undisclosed microphone inside a Nest Camera told a California family that the United States and North Korea had gone to war…and that intercontinental ballistic missiles would soon be hitting their area.

Similarly, an Illinois couple had their Nest Cameras taken over by hackers who screamed ethnic slurs at them and their infant son. The family’s Nest Learning Thermostat was also hacked and their home temperature was raised to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

In both cases, Nest officials placed blame on the affected customers by noting that their failure to follow proper password updating procedure and enable two-factor authentication made the hack possible.

The Internet of Things is Increasingly Becoming the Insecurity of Things

As far as the Internet of Things related problems go, the Nest issues are minor. Thus far, it has not been suggested that the Nest Guard keypads were on and recording without their owners’ consent.

Similarly, the digital intrusion into the Nest Camera and Learning Thermostat systems was not used to facilitate a burglary or home invasion. But the fact remains the same: Silicon Valley is developing an increasingly large credibility gap.

Google is currently in the midst of a class-action suit regarding its smartphone location tracking practices. Facebook is facing a potential multibillion-dollar fine from the Federal Trade Commission due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

And both companies were recently temporarily shut out of the Apple ecosystem when it was discovered that their enterprise apps were violating the company’s terms of service.

The fact that two of the tech sector’s biggest corporations do not feel obliged to follow the rules when it comes to individual users (let alone partner corporations) is deeply unnerving. All of these transgressions are going to have the cumulative effect of greatly diminishing consumer confidence in IoT technology, regardless of which company produces it.

And given that IOT tech has the potential to generate billions of dollars in consumer spending in a wide variety of industries, Big Tech has both a moral imperative and significant financial incentive to clean up its act.