Google calls failure to disclose hidden microphone 'an error'

Google says it was a mistake not to disclose the presence of a microphone in its Nest Secure home security system, but insists it was "never intended to be a secret" after customers raised concerns about the product.

The company earlier this month announced it would add Google Assistant support to the Nest Secure system, meaning owners would have the ability to deliver voice commands to control the system. The announcement immediately raised questions because it meant Google was allowing users to activate a built-in microphone that customers previously did not know existed. 

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"The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs," a Google spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday. "That was an error on our part."

The spokesperson noted that the microphone "has never been on" and can only be activated "when users specifically enable the option."

Nest, a smart home company owned by Google, also made headlines earlier this month when a Northern California family's security camera was accessed by someone who had obtained their password. The family heard a warning of a North Korean missile attack blaring over their security camera. 

Nest at the time warned customers to tighten up their password security to prevent their cameras and devices from being compromised.

Google did not include mention of the microphone when it announced the launch of its Nest Secure system in 2017. The company now says that was an oversight, and that the mic was included for the purpose of offering expanded features through the system in the future.

“Security systems often use microphones to provide features that rely on sound sensing," Google said in the statement this week. "We included the mic on the device so that we can potentially offer additional features to our users in the future, such as the ability to detect broken glass.”

The controversy is likely to intensify scrutiny over whether tech companies are doing enough to protect their customers' privacy.

"Google’s Nest has secret microphone to listen to users?" Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: WhatsApp issues fix after spyware breach | Pompeo warns Russia against interference | Florida gov confirms election hacking | Federal labor board's lawyer calls Uber drivers contractors | Graham zeroes in on 5G security Graham warns of 5G security threat from China GOP senator presses Zuckerberg over 'privacy pivot' MORE (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted on Wednesday in response. "Creepy, invasive, and not at all surprising."

--Updated at 3:25 p.m.