Beware of unforced errors in Internet of Things devices
Beware of unforced errors in Internet of Things devices
22 FEBRUARY 2019 7:00 AM

The latest incident of a company accidentally doing something that could have put user privacy at risk only adds to the perception that tech companies don’t prioritize protecting user privacy. The hotel industry can be a part of changing that perception.

So at this point, it seems we need to add “Does it have a microphone?” to the list of questions we need answered when buying anything connected to the Internet of Things.

I mean, yeah, that seems obvious, but not obvious enough. That question might have cut down on those 18 months the home security system Nest Secure was on the market before anyone outside of Google discovered there was a microphone inside of it, Business Insider reports.

According to the article, the microphone is inside the Nest Guard, which is the alarm, keypad and motion sensor part of the Nest Secure system. Google announced earlier this month that now consumers could use its virtual assistant with Nest Secure, which came as a surprise to owners because they weren’t aware of the microphone in the first place.

“The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs,” Google’s statement to the publication reads. “That was an error on our part.”

I don’t know about you, but I never get a feeling of genuine remorse whenever a company’s explanation or apology uses the word “error.” It feels more like a mistake a computer makes than somebody screwing something up and nobody catching it in time.

Good news, though, because the microphone was set to off by default. Yes, that is good news, but that should always be the default setting for any microphone on any smart device.

It seems lately that tech companies are falling over each other to see who can screw up privacy the most. I think consumers now, more than ever, are concerned about how tech companies (like Google and Facebook) are collecting, using and storing information about us.

I highly doubt any hotelier out there has purchased or was thinking of purchasing a Nest Secure for their hotels and guestrooms. But I heard multiple people at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit talking about introducing more IoT items into hotels for back-of-house use and guestroom amenities. It’s going to happen. There’s no holding back those floodwaters once they’ve let go.

But, before you make any investment into anything that fits into the IoT, do your homework. Have your IT team do its homework. Vet the hell out of any guest-facing IoT amenity you put in a room. Ask questions, and then ask more question. If it’s a device, buy one and then have IT take it apart and inspect the parts inside. Don’t let yourself be surprised.

Remember, the Nest Secure system was on the market for a year and a half before anyone realized it had a microphone in it, and that’s only because Google told users they could do something new with it. Giving Google the benefit of the doubt on the not-supposed-to-be-a-secret thing, that still means no one at the company for the 18 months it was selling this system ever looked at the specs and went, “Huh, that doesn’t look right.” To me, that’s one hell of an “error.”

People are already wary of tech companies handling their privacy. Don’t associate yourself with that fear, because if you put something in a guestroom that has a microphone or camera or something else that could violate someone’s privacy, and you don’t know about it, the guests are likely to put as much blame on you as the tech company behind it. That might not play out in court, but it certainly could in public opinion.

Would I sound old if I just started asking “Remember when a speaker was just a speaker” or stuff like that? Well, you can’t stop progress, but you can at least try to slow it down a bit so it doesn’t run over as many people.

What do you think about this latest privacy debacle? Should we expect more of the same? Let me know in the comments below or reach out to me at or @HNN_Bryan.

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