The revelation the Google-owned Nest home security system comes with a previously undisclosed microphone built into it hasn’t just worried consumers — it’s made it all the way to the United States Legislature. Members of the Senate Commerce Committee have sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking the executive to answer some pressing questions about the microphone.
Roger Wicker, R-MS, the head of the committee, was joined by Senators Jerry Moran, R-KS, and John Thune, R-SD, in seeking answers from Pichai. The senators are looking to find out when Google realized a microphone was included in their system, when the company recognized that it failed to mention the mic in the device specs provided to consumers, and what steps Google has taken to inform Nest owners that the devices contain a microphone.
In addition to looking for details about Google’s knowledge of the issue, the senators also want to know if the microphone has ever been used, either by Google or by a third-party that may have been given or gained access to the mic. If such activity did take place, it could represent a significant breach of privacy for Nest owners who may have been eavesdropped on without their knowledge.
The senators have six questions that they are looking to get answers for. Google will have until March 12 to provide a response to the letter. The senators told Google that they expect the company to be “completely transparent” with their customers and provide “full disclosure” of all information that would be relevant to consumers, even reminding the company that its chief privacy officer previously testified saying “transparency is a core value of our approach to serving users.”
The questions for Google come at an opportune time for members of Congress, as there are several hearings focused on privacy set to be held on Capitol Hill this week. On February 27, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing called “Policy Principles for a Federal Data Privacy Framework in the United States.” The next day, the House Consumer Protection Subcommittee will take up a similar issue with a hearing called “Protecting Consumer Privacy in the Era of Big Data.” It’s safe to say Google will likely receive scrutiny at both.
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