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Senate asks Google CEO to respond to hidden Nest mic


The Nest Secure Home Security System

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

The US Senate Committee on Commerce is seeking explanations from Google CEO Sundar Pichai about a recent controversy at Google's smart home appliance company, Nest.

Last week, the search giant drew criticism because its Nest Secure hub, a home security system connected to the Internet, includes a microphone, but this has never been disclosed in hardware specifications, marketing materials or on the Nest website.

The existence of this microphone became evident after Google announced earlier this month that it was bringing its Assistant software to Nest Secure. The wizard, which allows people to check flight information or turn off lights in their home, makes extensive use of voice commands – and a microphone – when it is turned on on devices without a screen.

At the time, Google said that the fact that the microphone was omitted from the product specification was an "error". The company also said that the microphone had never been activated.

But that did not convince the committee members, who wrote a letter to Pichai asking for more information.

"Google's failure to disclose a microphone in its Nest Secure product raises serious questions about its commitment to transparency and consumer disclosure," says the February 25 letter. "As consumer technologies become more advanced, it's critical that consumers know the capabilities of the devices they bring home so they can make informed choices."

The letter asks Pichai to follow up with the committee before March 12. The committee also wants an "in-person briefing" on the issue by March 29th. The letter was written by Senate Republicans Roger Wicker of Mississippi, John Thune of South Dakota and Jerry. Moran of Kansas.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the letter.

The controversy arises while Google – and the rest of Silicon Valley – is attacking a more in-depth review of privacy and data collection. Lawmakers and the general public have defeated Google for the use of location data on its Android phones, as well as for the access it gives third-party software publishers to read emails from users on Gmail.

The committee wants Pichai to specifically address six issues:

  1. Has a microphone always been part of the home security system and the Nest Secure alarm system?
  2. When and how did Google learn that a microphone was not listed in the Nest Secure technical specifications available to consumers?
  3. What steps has Google taken to inform Nest Secure device buyers that it contains an undisclosed microphone?
  4. Please describe the development process of Google's technical specifications for its products. At what stage of this process occurred the error that resulted in omitting the presence of the microphone in the Nest Secure device? Has Google taken steps to prevent such an error from being repeated in the technical specifications of other Google products?
  5. Does Google know or have they ever heard of a third party using the Nest Secure microphone for unauthorized purposes?
  6. Is Google aware of similar omissions in the technical specifications of any other Google product?

The Senate also points out that the undisclosed microphone makes consumers vulnerable to spying on hackers.

In addition, even if Google did not use the Nest Secure microphone to record information, or if it was disabled by default, hackers or other external entities could have activated the microphone to record information. unlawfully ", says the letter.

Nest has recently undergone other controversies regarding the protection of privacy. Last month, a hacker infiltrated the Nest Cam security camera of a San Francisco Bay Area family using a password obtained by a third party. The hacker convinced the family that the United States was the target of a North Korean nuclear attack. In December, another hacker took the camera of a man in Arizona to warn of security breaches. In another case this month, a hacker told a couple, through the device, that he was going to kidnap their child.

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