After last week’s privacy blunder involving Google’s Nest home security system, US lawmakers want answers.
On Monday, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the Senate Commerce Committee chairman, sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai demanding information about the tech giant’s failure to disclose a microphone in its Nest Secure devices to consumers.
“In recent years, consumers have become increasingly concerned about the ability of large technology companies to collect and use personal data about them without their knowledge,” the letter said. “Therefore, it is critically important that companies like Google be completely transparent with consumers, and provide full disclosure of all technical specifications of their products at the point of sale.”
The letter, which was also signed by subcommittee chairmen Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and John Thune of South Dakota, referred to a Senate hearing last September when Google’s chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, said that “transparency is a core value of our approach to serving users.”
The recent revelations, however, have caused the Senate committee to question Google on matters of consumer privacy and protection.
“Google’s failure to disclose a microphone within its Nest Secure product raises serious questions about its commitment to consumer transparency and disclosure,” the letter said.
The Senate committee is requesting Google provide written answers by March 12 to six questions about the initially undisclosed microphone in its Nest Secure devices, including how and when it discovered that a microphone was not listed on spec sheets for consumers and whether it is aware of any third parties using the microphone “for any unauthorized purpose.”
The committee also requested an in-person briefing for its staff on the matter by no later than March 29.
Several lawmakers who spoke with Business Insider last week voiced concerns about the hidden microphone and the implications for consumer privacy.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a leading privacy advocate and the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Google’s failure to disclose the components of its security device was “totally at odds with consumer expectations.”
“The standard talking point that consumers don’t care about privacy has been increasingly disproven, as we learn that consumers and policymakers have been kept in the dark for years about data collection and commercialization practices,” Warner said. “Both responsible federal agencies and the US Congress must have hearings to shine a light on the dark underbelly of the digital economy.”
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, told Business Insider that “Americans shouldn’t have to fear that the products in their home could be spying on them.”
“‘It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than seek permission’ or ‘it’s in the fine print’ are not workable privacy policies, but they’re ones that tech companies routinely fall back on,” Harris said.