Google has become the latest tech giant to admit that it had screwed up when it comes to doing something suspect related to one of its devices and users’ privacy.
Google’s Nest home alarm products are embedded with a microphone that was not disclosed to the buyer. When the news hit the fan, search engine giant pretty much said oops, our bad, we made a mistake, etc.
There seems to be a playbook that tech giants pull from when they’re caught red-handed doing something nefarious. Think Amazon, Apple and Facebook and their debacles with privacy issues. Through verbal gymnastics, their C-suite execs downplayed the problems.
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Most aggravating is the “duh” response. Such responses by these tech behemoths are not going to continue to fly.
Nesting and Listening
To considerable fanfare, Google rolled out a series of home alarm products that it named Nest at the beginning of the year.
As pointed out by Gizmodo, some of Google’s newest Nest devices have been on the market for just barely two months, and already there are issues. There have been a few hacking scares over its home securities cameras, according to Gizmodo.
The whammy over this microphone is particularly disturbing and the reasons are twofold:
- Nest buyers were not explicitly told about the microphone.
- The lackadaisical response leaves a lot to be desired.
Apparently, it’s common practice for Google to use microphones in its systems because that’s how they can pick up sounds. Business Insider was told by execs that the mics are included on the device so that [it] can potentially offer additional features to our users in the future, such as the ability to detect broken glass.
Furthermore, “the microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option,” according to Business Insider.
Quirks Put Out For All To See
Like its peers, Google is finding out what it’s like to have issues meant to be kept private exposed to the masses.
Business Insider broke the news of the Nest systems and the built-in microphones. It was only then that Alphabet-owned property spoke up about it.
Here’s a statement from a Google spokesperson.
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. The microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.
That backlash from that comment came quick. It was almost as insulting to the intellect as the mic being put in the devices in the first place. Google had put users on notice about the system. In February blog post, it stated it was adding “a feature” to help people streamline their daily routine.
Unbeknownst to users was this feature had a microphone. As the fallout occurred, Google updated its product page to point out the mic.
Wakeup Time For Big Tech
Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook have dazzled us when their inventions. We eagerly awaited the releases of their next best things.
Few hesitated to buy their gadgets over fears that they’d feed off of by violating our privacies. Now that these tech giants are being caught red-handed breaking all kinds of common sense privacy rules, they seem to think they can feign ignorance, or just offer up and ‘oops’ in response.
Senate Commerce Committee pens letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai requesting written answers for 6 questions and an in-person briefing related to Google's failure to disclose a mic was inside Nest Secure/Nest Guard https://t.co/JicrIml4uy tip @Techmeme
— Steven Tweedie (@SteveTweedie) February 26, 2019
Given these tech companies boast being manned by the most intelligent people in the world, apologies are falling on deaf ears. More are doubting that the uptick in the number of these screw-ups just mistakes.
Disturbing Trend Of Disregarding Privacy Issues
It seems that tech companies are in an endless cycle of “hold my beer.” As soon as we learn about one doing something related to privacy we hear of another one doing something just as bad.
Google joins Amazon in having privacy issues with its devices. Earlier this month, Facebook co-founder Sean Parker singled out Amazon’s Alexa in warning about these devices.
Amazon’s Alexa is listening to everything you say, literally everything you say. You don’t have to say ‘Hey Alexa.’ The microphone is on and it’s recording. If you need any evidence of this, just look at all the subpoenas Amazon is receiving from law enforcement agencies.
Facebook has been mired in controversies over how it handles its users’ privacies. One of the most damning reveals stemmed from the breach of its subscribers’ information by Cambridge Analytica breach.
CCN reported that the Cambridge Analytica debacle would cause a mass exodus of Facebook users. Their leaving would result in businesses decreasing their ad dollars for the company, the theory went. However, neither scenario came true. Advertisers are still using the platform because users aren’t leaving in droves.
Then there’s Apple. whose FaceTime app had a bug that was allowing people to listen in on others’ conversations. Many were outraged that Apple was slow to respond or fix the bug that was allowing this to happen.
Oops, My Bad, I’m Sorry Aren’t Cutting It
In expressing their concerns about Google’s snafu, many observers were having a hard time believing that the supposedly smartest people on the planet weren’t catching these flaws.
Twitter user Tim Shisler summarized the thoughts of many by tweeting:
For all these tech companies hiring the smartest people available, they sure do a good job pretending innocent mistakes just happen. And the craziest thing is people believe it.
Oops! We neglected to mention we're recording everything you do while fronting as a security device. The fact that we can record you is in no way intentional, a mic must have just fallen into the device. https://t.co/ebNdMnD8jZ
— Scott Galloway (@profgalloway) February 20, 2019
Here’s another person who’s not buying the “mistake” answer.
I love how tech giants think calling some massive betrayal of user trust “an error” makes it all better. Google had a secret mic in Nest Secure. Wtf. pic.twitter.com/XXYXSLe5qQ
— Josh Constine (@JoshConstine) February 20, 2019