After Google admitted it had made a mistake when to failed to mention that its new ‘Nest Guard’ alarm hub included a microphone, the US privacy watchdog, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) has demanded that authorities force the search engine giant to sell off its Nest division and surrender any data collated from Nest customers.
In a letter sent to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), EPIC president Marc Rotenberg, along with Consumer Protection Counsel Christine Bannan, have criticised the FTC for its lax approach to Google’s acquisition of Nest back in 2014. In particular, they said, the privacy concerns that were raised at the time.
In the letter they say the FTC should have been far more vigorous in its review before allowing Google to acquire Nest and they demand that Google should be forced to divest itself from Nest.
The FTC should now commence an enforcement action against Google with the aim of divesting the company of Nest and requiring also that Google disgorge the data it wrongfully obtained from Nest customers.- Letter to FTC: Marc Rosenberg and Christine Bannan, EPIC
Google defended itself by saying it had never used the microphone prior to their disclosure and that no audio data was ever collated. At present it is unknown whether hackers or others may have activated the undisclosed mics to listen in on customers.
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.
Security systems often use microphones to provide features that rely on sound sensing. 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.- Google Spokesperson: Google Inc
EPIC has been particularly critical of the FTC’s record when it came to Google. Pointing to the FTC’s apparent reluctance to pursue Google over 17 questionable business practices over the last 15 years. Even going so far as to accuse the FTC of appearing to be unwilling to bring legal action against either Facebook or Google to enforce privacy settlements.
In response to the criticism the FTC, in November last year, urged Congress to clarify the organisation’s authority. They argued that with wider powers they could be more effective in pursuing errant behaviour.