Earlier this month, we learned that Google’s Nest Secure home security device has a built-in microphone. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal; however, its existence was hidden from public knowledge. When this news was made public, Google’s response was that “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.” Or, in other words, “Oops. You caught us.”
But despite having apologized, Congress is demanding answers from Google. Three US Senators, Roger F. Wicker, John Thune, and Jerry Moran have written a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai requesting some information about the undisclosed microphone. It reads in part:
In recent years, consumers have become increasingly concerned about the ability of large technology companies to collect and use personal data about them without their knowledge. Therefore, it is critically important that companies like Google be completely transparent with consumers, and provide full disclosure of all technical specifications of their products at the point of sale.
Specifically, they have requested that Pichai address the following in writing:
- Has a microphone always been a component of the Nest Secure home security and alarm system device?
- When and how did Google become aware that a microphone was not listed on the Nest Secure’s technical specifications available to consumers
- What steps has Google taken to inform purchasers of Nest Secure devices that the device contains a previously undisclosed microphone?
- Please describe Google’s process for developing technical specifications for its products. At what stage of this process did the error take place that resulted in the omission of the microphone’s presence in the Nest Secure device? Has Google taken steps to prevent such an error from reoccurring in the technical specifications for other Google products?
- Is Google aware or has Google ever been aware of any third party using the Nest Secure microphone for any unauthorized purpose?
- Is Google aware of similar omissions in the technical specifications for any other Google products?
Google’s chief has until March 12 to provide a written response. He will be providing an in-person briefing to Committee staff on the issue sometime before March 29.