Is your Google Nest camera picking up everything you say with a hidden microphone?

By Stacey Leasca
Updated February 21, 2019
Credit: Getty Images

In early February, Google made a major announcement about its popular Nest security system: Users can now enable its virtual-assistant technology, Google Assistant. While that should have been a win for consumers and the company, it wasn’t. That’s because when Google announced the new upgrade, it inadvertently revealed that Nest cameras actually had a hidden microphone in the system the entire time.

As Business Insider reported, the existence of the microphone was never disclosed in any of the device's product materials, including online or on the packing. This, a Google spokesperson told Business Insider, was “an error.”

“The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs,” the spokesperson said. “That was an error on our part.” According to Google, the microphone has never been turned on inside the device and “is only activated when users specifically enable the option.“ It added that the mic was built into the device so the company could potentially “offer additional features to our users in the future, such as the ability to detect broken glass.”

Still, in the age of heightened internet privacy concerns, the news of this hidden mic comes as quite a shock to consumers, who include homeowners watching over their property while away and mothers using the system as a baby monitor.

Now, a privacy advocacy group known as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is sounding its own alarm. Earlier this week, the group sent a letter to the FTC, requesting it take action against Google.

“It is entirely unclear whether Google, a remote hacker, or anyone else enabled the microphones in the Nest devices after they were installed by customers in their homes,” EPIC said in the letter, according to Business Insider.

While Google says the microphone is turned off by default, you can always take it a step further and turn it off yourself. (This, however, will also deactivate your ability to control the system via Google Assistant.) All you need to do, according to Nest, is open the Nest app and go to Settings. Next, tap “Google Assistant” and switch it to “off” mode. Of course, you could always leave it on and wait for new voice-activated features if you feel comfortable with the chance of someone listening in.