Lawmakers Demand Answers on Surprise Microphones Inside Google Nest
The group wants Google CEO Sundar Pichai to provide answers—in writing, and in person—on the microphones discovered in Nest products.
Google failed to mention that there’s a microphone inside its Nest Secure home device product and three Senate Republicans say Americans need to know more.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who chairs the Commerce, Science and, Transportation Committee and two subcommittee chairmen, Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai Monday demanding more information. In the letter, lawmakers said companies like Google should “be completely transparent with consumers” and that “conducting oversight of instances in which consumers' trust may have been violated is a priority” for the committee.
Nest owners were caught by surprise earlier this month, when the company announced on its Twitter that users could activate a microphone within the Nest that would enable new features. Though the devices went on sale in 2017, the tweet alarmed users who felt it marked the company’s first mention that there was a microphone inside their homes.
“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,” Google said in a statement.
In the letter, the senators asked Pichai to send a written response to six questions they posed by March 12, and to provide the committee staff with an in-person briefing by March 29. They quoted a statement from when the company’s chief privacy officer testified in front of the committee last September and told Congress members that "transparency is a core value of our approach to serving users."
“That is why Google's failure to disclose a microphone within its Nest Secure product raises serious questions about its commitment to consumer transparency and disclosure,” the senators wrote.
After the news about the hidden microphone came to light, Google made an attempt to reassure customers, saying that “the microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.”
But lawmakers said it is still imperative that consumers are made aware of all capabilities within the devices that they bring into their homes.
“Even if Google was not using the Nest Secure microphone to record any information or it was turned off by default, there is still risk that hackers or other outside entities could have activated the microphone to illicitly record information,” the letter said.
Notably, the senators asked for more details around the “error” that “resulted in the omission of the microphone’s presence” and if the company is aware of “similar omissions in the technical specifications of other Google products.”