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Security & privacy

Google is collecting face data – here’s how you can opt out

Google has just released a major upgrade of its smart home hub that is raising concerns about privacy. The Google Nest Hub Max now features Face Match, a facial recognition program, on its smart display.

It’s concerning that Google is using artificial intelligence to recognize your face on its Nest Hub Max. Google already has a large facial recognition database, which it claims it has not shared.

So why does the hub use facial recognition? We’ll tell you about Google’s reasoning for it and how you can maintain your privacy even if you plan to get Google Nest Hub Max.

Google upgrade includes Face Match

The Hub Max is the result of Google finally merging operations with Nest, which it has owned since 2014. Retailing for about $230, the Hub Max’s new smart display screen is 10 inches. The last-generation Nest Hub’s display screen was 7 inches.

As its name suggests, Hub Max is the central control for compatible and connected smart devices such as security cameras, thermostats, lights and more. Hub Max’s smart display speakers are also more powerful. In addition, it comes with a camera, a feature the Nest Hub smart display doesn’t have. It’s that camera that is generating concerns about privacy.

The camera allows users to hold video calls or receive video messages, as well as watch streaming video. While those features are nice, that’s not what is worrying privacy advocates.

By using the front-facing camera on the smart display, Google’s Face Match uses facial-recognition artificial intelligence to recognize faces. Google says that comes in handy as the Hub Max begins to recognize all the faces in a household on the smart display so it can anticipate each person’s needs or commands.

If that sounds too intrusive to you, Google says Face Match is not a default program. A person who wants to use it has to set it up. This is done by taking photos of yourself in the Google Home app on your phone and then sending them to the hub.


Related: Nest and Google are merging – Here’s what it means for your smart devices


Google says that if you later want to opt out of Face Match the hub will delete your facial data from the smart display. Google further emphasizes that all of the facial recognition is done locally on the device and nothing is sent or stored in the cloud.

So that takes care of the facial recognition feature of the Google Nest Hub Max. However, just like Alexa, the Hub Max is always listening, as well as watching.

The camera on the smart display does not have a shutter, so you only know the camera is in use when the light next to it is green. It turns orange when the camera is disabled.

To disable the microphones and camera, turn off the switch in the back of the smart display. If you don’t want the camera on but would like to keep the mics on, you can configure that in the Hub Max settings.

Google keeps database of facial images

If Google’s facial-recognition failsafes still leave you skeptical about whether Google will collect your images from the Hub Max, you have good reason to be. Google, along with Facebook and Microsoft, has amassed a large database of facial images. 

Google says the images are only used to improve devices such as the Hub Max. It also insists that it does not share the database.

But make no mistake: Google wants your image. It is piloting a new program in several major cities where it’s giving away free $5 gift cards in exchange for a single photo of your face.

Google says it wants the photos in order to train the next generation of facial recognition software for its phone and web-based products. Just know that when you accept that gift card you’re giving away your facial image to Google.

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