Nested Microphones

by Colin Berkshire

Bonus, a post from Colin and a rebuttal from Dave.

“Google put a microphone in Nest Secure and forgot to tell anyone.”
This has been a frequent headline in the past week as it has been discovered that the Google Nest Secure product has a secret microphone. This story has been repeated so many times I wonder if there is any new news anymore. (See: Google put a microphone in Nest Secure and forgot to tell anyone by Shah and Google built a microphone into its Nest security system – and forgot to tell anyone by Meek.

The broader story is this:

Google Nest has included a secret microphone in every smoke detector they have ever sold. That’s right, millions of bedrooms are wired with microphones that are connected to the Internet. And, yet, somehow, this hasn’t made the news. I guess it’s easier to plagiarize other reporters than to actually write new stuff.

Take a look at my post from two years ago.

So why are people surprised that Google continues to put secret microphones into their products?

Dave’s Rebuttal:

The concern here is Google, because it’s a company that leverages personal information. Though, there’s no indication it has done so with these devices. The heightened concern over privacy is good. Maybe Google should have explained there was a deactivated microphone in the product but why? Realistically, we are surrounded by (deactivated) microphones.

Any speaker can be adapted to be a microphone, so your microphone-less, connected TV could be listening. 

Our smartphones and IP phones have microphones that are disconnected by software only – they can and have been turned into listening bugs.

Cars are increasingly connected to LTE networks from the manufacturer and they have microphones built right into the dashboard. Not to mention 12 speakers that can listen too. Your laptop has a microphone and camera.

So, an IP phone on your desk with a deactivated microphone is not a security threat, but a fire alarm with a deactivated microphone is? 

I do have concerns with Google Home and Amazon’s Echo devices because they actively listen — supposedly for a wake word. These devices have microphones that are on.

I think the reason there is only one Nest story is because there is nothing else to say.