The worst type of microphone is the hidden microphone.
Consumers were wary when Google announced in early February that its home security system, Nest Secure, would be able to act as an AI-powered assistant after a recent update.
“With the flip of a switch on the Nest app, you can set Security as an all-hearing assistant speaker,” the company said in a blog post announcing the update.
Until then, consumers weren’t aware that Nest Secure didn’t have a microphone.
Google said it made an “error” by failing to include the microphone in technical features, Business Insider first reported. Although some mentioned when the announcement came that the product was not supposed to have a microphone, Google did not address it until Tuesday. Nest Secure has been on the shelves for 18 months.
“The on-device microphone was never intended to be hidden and should have been listed in the technical features,” a Google spokesman said in a statement emailed to the Post. “This was an error on our part. The microphone was never turned on and only activated when users specifically enabled the option.”
The microphone was included, leaving the door open to add extra features to the technology, Google said, similar to the ability to detect broken glass. The company says noise sensing devices are common in security systems. Google last year introduced a similar voice-activated functionality in Nest’s security cameras.
In a blog post, Google says that many people may not need Google Assistant functionality because most of them already have separate devices for this purpose. The company explained that the range of voice-command functions would also be limited – the system could not play music or disarm with voice.
But many were worried about the possibility of customers gaining access to Google’s home without their knowledge.
Tensions surrounding the privacy practice escalated when it was discovered that Facebook had allowed developers to access users’ data and that 87 million users had their data compromised by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. At a Senate hearing in September, technology leaders from Google and Apple told lawmakers it was time for federal privacy legislation to be enacted after many pushed for such a move.
Google has also been criticized for its questionable privacy practices in the past, with an Associated Press investigation in August finding that Google was secretly recording customer location information on Android phones, even when they were out of tracking.
Google bought Nest Labs, a smart home appliance company, last February for 3.2 billion. The company has been operating as a separate business since 2015 under the parent company Alphabet. Now it’s part of Google’s hardware division, which makes Google Home technology and Pixel smartphones.
Washington Post 2019