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Google’s Nest fiasco harms user trust and invades their privacy

Google’s Nest fiasco harms user trust and invades their privacyTechnology companies, lawmakers, privacy advocates, and everyday consumers likely disagree about exactly how a company should go about collecting user data. But, following a trust-shattering move by Google last month regarding its Nest Secure product, consensus on one issue has emerged: Companies shouldn’t ship products that …

  • 13 Mar 2019
4 min read
Google’s Nest fiasco harms user trust and invades their privacy
Technology companies, lawmakers, privacy advocates, and everyday consumers likely disagree about exactly how a company should go about collecting user data. But, following a trust-shattering move by Google last month regarding its Nest Secure product, consensus on one issue has emerged: Companies shouldn’t ship products that can surreptitiously spy on users. Failing to disclose that a product can collect information from users in ways they couldn’t have reasonably expected is bad form. It invades privacy, breaks trust, and robs consumers of the ability to make informed choices. While collecting data on users is nearly inevitable in today’s corporate world, secret, undisclosed, or unpredictable data collection—or data collection abilities—is another problem. A smart-home speaker shouldn’t be secretly hiding a video camera. A secure messaging platform shouldn’t have a government-operated backdoor. And a home security hub that controls an alarm, keypad, and motion detector shouldn’t include a clandestine microphone feature—especially one that was never announced to customers. And yet, that is precisely what Google’s home security product includes. Google fumbles once again Last month, Google announced that its Nest Secure would be updated to work with Google Assistant software. Following the update, users could simply utter “Hey Google” to access voice controls on the product line-up’s “Nest Guard” device. The main problem, though, is that Google never told users that its product had an internal microphone to begin with. Nowhere inside the Nest Guard’s hardware specs, or in its marketing materials, could users find evidence of an installed microphone. When Business Insider broke the news, Google fumbled ownership of the problem: “The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs,” a Google spokesperson said. “That was an error on our part.” Customers, academics, and privacy advocates balked at this explanation. “This is deliberately misleading and lying to your customers about your product,” wrote Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Oops! We neglected to mention we’re recording everything you do while fronting as a security device,” wrote Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) spoke in harsher terms: Google’s disclosure failure wasn’t just bad corporate behavior, it was downright criminal. “It is a federal crime to intercept private communications or to plant a listening device in a private residence,” EPIC said in a statement. In a letter, the organization urged the Federal Trade Commission to take “enforcement action” against Google, with the hope of eventually separating Nest from its parent. (Google purchased Nest in 2014 for $3.2 billion.) Days later, the US government stepped in. The Senate Select Committee on Commerce sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, demanding answers about the company’s disclosure failure. Whether Google was actually recording voice data didn’t matter, the senators said, because hackers could still have taken advantage of the microphone’s capability. “As consumer technology becomes ever more advanced, it is essential that consumers know the capabilities of the devices
Source: Malware BytesPublished on 2019-03-13
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  • 13 Mar 2019

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