Billy Swain | 8 May 2019
At the beginning of 2019, Google announced its latest Nest-branded smart home devices in the form of the Nest Secure alarm system. The system includes three products: the Nest Guard, Nest Detect and Nest Tag. The Nest Guard is the main hub that works to tie all of Google’s Nest devices together, but it also had one undisclosed feature – a microphone.
The Nest Secure family of devices are easy to get your hands on and most Australian technology retailers like Harvey Norman, JB HiFi, Officeworks and The Good Guys often have them discounted for promotions. That said, there’s a good chance you might have a Nest Secure device or the Nest Guard in your home.
For the most updated list of Nest retailers, you can always check the Nest Where to Buy page.
Back in February, Google pushed an update to all of its latest Nest Secure smart home devices which enabled support for Google’s smart assistant – the Google Assistant – on the Nest Guard. The update touted that users could now choose to switch on the Guard’s microphone and use their Nest Guard similarity to a Google Home speaker.
Generally, a product update that adds new features isn’t an issue and is very common, however, not a single Nest Guard user in Australia could have known that the device had a microphone inside. On all Nest Secure device boxes, online specifications and on the devices themselves there was no mention of a microphone existing inside the Guard.
This immediately sparked user concerns of whether the Nest Guard had been listening into and recording audio from inside Australian’s homes without anyone’s knowledge or consent. It also gave hackers an easy way into accessing conversations since Nest owners weren’t aware that they needed to be extra cautious with their smart Nest devices.
A spokesperson from Google reached out to Business Insider in late February and made it clear that Google had no intention of hiding details regarding microphones in the Nest Secure device and that it was simply a company ‘error’ that led to the undisclosed microphone modules.
“The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs,” which, “was an error on our part.” The spokesperson also made it clear that the microphones within the Nest Secure were never turned on and were, “only activated when users specifically enable the option.”
Even when you consider Google’s response, the fact that the company let such a major product feature slip by without any disclose is worrying. In a time where every Australian’s data is being heavily monetised and even absorbed by our own government, it’s hard to trust Google and their claim of the microphones being offline until the latest update.
This issue also begs the question, what other Nest Secure devices has Google been offering with hidden features or the ability to store and record personal data without consent? Back in 2010, the company was caught using their StreetView cars to absorb private data from people’s Wi-Fi networks as the cars drove by their homes.
If you do own a Nest Guard or Nest Secure device and care about your privacy, the first thing you should do is disable the product’s microphone. You can follow the steps here to do that.
Once you have your Nest’s microphones disabled, you should then consider VPN services to prevent cybercriminals from accessing the device. One of the biggest downsides to Nest’s ‘secret’ microphone implementation is the fact that any specialist cybercriminal with access to your Nest or Wi-Fi network can enable it and gain access to your conversations.
We highly recommend investing in a high-speed VPN service, especially if you have the NBN, and connecting it to your home’s router or modem to ensure all web activity coming in and leaving your home is encrypted. The NBN router-friendly services like VyprVPN, ExpressVPN and NordVPN can be installed fairly easily on to home routers and these will make it a whole lot harder for anyone to gain access to your smart home devices.
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