Skip to main content

Read Google’s new Nest privacy promise and tell me if you’re swayed

Read Google’s new Nest privacy promise and tell me if you’re swayed


Does it make you feel better about inviting Google into your home?

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Google wants to be inside your home. It wants to sell you cameras, alarm systems, and voice assistants to make your life — and maybe its targeted advertising business — that much easier. But there’s a problem. People don’t necessarily trust big tech companies or their camera-equipped smart displays right now.

And while Google may not have had a Cambridge Analytica-level scandal on its hands, a couple recent incidents with its Nest division could have given buyers pause: a string of digital break-ins where Nest cameras let strangers deliver fake nuclear bomb threats and spy on babies over the internet (not exaggerating), and the revelation that the Nest Secure alarm system had a secret microphone that buyers never knew about.

So today, as Google announced that it’s going to sell a device that’s not all that different from the Facebook Portal, whose most every review wondered whether you should really invite a Facebook camera into your home, Google also decided to publicly take ownership for privacy going forward.

As we discovered in our interview with Google Nest leader Rishi Chandra, Google has created a set of plain-English privacy commitments. And while Google didn’t actually share them during today’s Google I/O keynote, they’re now available for you to read on the web.

Here’s the high-level overview:

We’ll explain our sensors and how they work. The technical specifications for our connected home devices will list all audio, video, and environmental and activity sensors—whether enabled or not. And you can find the types of data these sensors collect and how that data is used in various features in our dedicated help center page.

We’ll explain how your video footage, audio recordings, and home environment sensor readings are used to offer helpful features and services, and our commitment for how we’ll keep this data separate from advertising and ad personalization.

We’ll explain how you can control and manage your data, such as providing you with the ability to access, review, and delete audio and video stored with your Google Account at any time.

But the full document gets way more specific than that. And remarkably, a number of the promises aren’t the typical wishy-washy legalese you might expect. Some are totally unambiguous. Some of them go against the grain, like how Nest won’t let you turn off the recording light on your camera anymore because it wants to assure you!

“Your home is a special place. It’s where you get to decide who you invite in. It‘s the place for sharing family recipes and watching babies take first steps. You want to trust the things you bring into your home. And we’re committed to earning that trust,” Google says.

I’ve got a real, genuine question for you, particularly if you wind up reading through the whole thing. Does this set your mind at ease? Are you any more willing or interested in placing a Google-branded camera in your home?

Personally, I’m of two minds. Part of me is impressed by the plain English, and by Google’s willingness to sacrifice the public relations air gap by adding its own name to the Nest division. (It’s Google Nest now, but a bunch of reports about Nest’s previous incidents blamed Nest without even naming Google.) Plus, I already have cameras in my home that I don’t necessarily trust, or that don’t work as well as I like, and I might be in the market for new ones. Maybe they’ll come from Google, because I trust Google just a little bit more now?

But part of me worries that it’s just a shrewd marketing campaign, a way to sweep previous concerns under the rug, and that Google could change its mind and its policies at any time.

You can read Google Nest’s full privacy promise here.