Malware Experts: Google Invaded Privacy and Harmed Trust with Home Security ‘Fiasco’

Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Alex Wong/ Getty
LUCAS NOLAN

Antivirus manufacturer Malwarebytes published a blog post recently outlining why Google’s latest privacy scandal is so damaging to user trust.

Popular anti-malware product manufacturer Malwarebytes published a blog post recently which outlines the issues with Silicon Valley Tech companies failing to disclose the full privacy implications of their products. Malwarebytes writer David Ruiz wrote:

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.

Ruiz further goes on to outline the full situation surrounding Google’s Nest product and the subsequent backlash that the tech giant faced:

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.

 

Ruiz notes that the issue isn’t just about the collection of user data, it’s about users not knowing that the product they purchased could collect their data in this way:

Collecting user data is essential to today’s technology companies. It powers Yelp recommendations based on a user’s location, product recommendations based on an Amazon user’s prior purchases, and search results based on a Google user’s history. Collecting user data also helps companies find bugs, patch software, and retool their products to their users’ needs.

But some of that data collection is visible to the user. And when it isn’t, it can at least be learned by savvy consumers who research privacy policies, read tech specs, and compare similar products. Other home security devices, for example, advertise the ability to trigger alarms at the sound of broken windows—a functionality that demands a working microphone.

Google’s failure to disclose its microphone prevented even the most privacy-conscious consumers from knowing what they were getting in the box. It is nearly the exact opposite approach that rival home speaker maker Sonos took when it installed a microphone in its own device.

Read the full article at Malwarebytes here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or email him at lnolan@breitbart.com

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