Is the Government Listening?

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I was considering purchasing a Nest Protect smoke detector system for my home until I turned my brain on.

The Nest Protect smoke detector has a microphone in it. The purpose for this is to listen at the audio announcements and to determine that the buzzer and speaker are working.

But then I realized Nest Protect was a Google product, and Google has the secret reputation for earning a significant amount of money from spying on citizens and selling this data to governments. (True or not, I don’t know, but I have spoken with several seemingly well informed individuals who profess that this is the case.)

So here we have a Google product that places an audio microphone in every bedroom and on every floor of a home. That microphone is connected to the internet. And the device can have firmware updates silently pushed to it. This is the perfect device for spying on citizens.
If it was Apple I don’t think they would be selling customer confidential data, but Google is another story.

I romped through their privacy policy (written at a third grade level with large feel good headlines. I can find nothing to dispel the fear that Google Nest Protect is anything other than a spying device…

Google’s Nest Protect allows Google to provide any data from Nest Protect (presumably including audio data) to the US government for any “legal reason”. Note that these are carefully chosen words. They are not saying they will share data only if legally required. They may share data for any legal reason. Feeling that your bladder is full is a legal reason to go to the bathroom.

Here is the important part of the text from their Privacy Policy:

“We may share…information with and…we may disclose information…for the purposes of law enforcement and national security.”

The Fifth Amendment states that the government may not compel any party to disclose information without a court issued search warrant. But if a company chooses to sell private information to the government, the government may legally purchase that information.

So, if nothing prohibits Google from selling audio from the Nest Protect in your bedroom to the NSA they may do so legally, and choosing to profit from these audio recordings is a “legal reason” to sell it.

I was speaking with one very well connected individual in China. He stated to me that the real reason that google is not in China is because the Chinese government refuses to pay for real-time data feeds of all searches being conducted. (He called this Google’s “firehose” data feed.) China demands that the data firehose be provided for free. Since the data firehose is a apparently a major part of Google’s revenue they cannot set a president that a government can simply demand the data for free. So, Google pulled out rather than provide the data firehose for free.

Google has publicly maintained that the reason they are not in China is because they won’t censor searches. But this is a patently false statement. They do censor data in France and other countries (you cannot Google search for nazi related articles.) And, since China blocks access to politically unacceptable articles, Google doesn’t need to do any censoring at all…they just need to index all articles which are available to the Chinese public…no censoring is required.

The Nest Protect is a nice looking unit and it has a lot of features. But to me it is a very scary device. I decided not to purchase it.

Colin Berkshire

  • mp

    Great piece, Dave. Shows your crisp, analytic thinking AND shows that greed (shareholder value?) will trump integrity and privacy, at least with Google. Thanks!