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Security & privacy

Google makes it harder for property owners to spy on you

Google’s Nest cameras have become an incredibly popular security product. Customers have been quick to applaud Nest’s ease of use and device compatibility — with many of them using the cameras to monitor babies, scan their front doors, and even secure vacation rental properties.

As we’ve mentioned previously, there’s been a number of spy-camera scandals in the world of vacation rentals, and Nest cameras are no exception to this rule. In addition to users spying on their guests with Nest cameras, the devices themselves have proven vulnerable to hackers and nearby snoops. Anyone knowledgeable enough can alter a few specific camera settings and fool Nest owners into a false sense of security.

Thankfully, Google has noticed the issue, and has released a solution in the form of a software update to its popular line of cameras. This update not only lets users know if they’re being spied on, but prevents bad actors from disabling this feature. We’ll show you how Google is leading the fight against voyeurs, and what this new update means for your existing Nest cameras.

How is the latest Nest software update protecting against spying?

One of the most obvious features of a webcam is the so called “status light,” which lets users know when their camera is live and recording. Nearly every webcam features this light in some form or another — from standalone cameras to the one in your laptop. If you see a green (or red) light shining next to your camera, it’s safe to assume that its on and active.

Nest, however, has taken a different approach to status lights. Until recently, Nest devices featured a toggle in settings that allowed users to disable the light for a more discrete recording option. This has created some controversy, since anyone in a room with a Nest that has the status light disabled would not know that they’re being recorded.

According to a new report from Techradar, that’s where Google is taking a stand in its latest update to Nest, which disables the ability to toggle the status light. The company first announced the removal of this feature with the unveiling of the Nest Hub Max, a new product in the line that features a mandatory status light for any time it’s live.

According to Google, an upcoming software update will remove the toggle for existing Nest owners. This update will be mandatory for all devices going forward.

Why is Google disabling the status light toggle for Nest cameras?

Google’s actions are part of the company’s new perspective on privacy and data protection. After deliberating on the decision through several versions of the update, the time finally came for Google to reveal the change alongside its latest product announcement.

The ability to remove the status light from the Nest Camera has long been seen by privacy advocates as a security issue — and for good reason! If a hacker were able to breach your Nest camera settings, not only could they spy on you through your camera setup, but they could remove the status light so you’d have no idea they were watching.

Abusive spouses, in theory, could disable the status light in order to spy on their partners without them knowing. Shady rental property owners could hide a Nest camera in their home without guests being aware they’re being recorded. Ultimately, keeping the light toggle was more trouble than it was worth, so the decision was a natural fit for Google as it pivots towards a more privacy-friendly platform.

If you already have a Nest camera, expect this update to come down the pipeline later in the year. For those who are thinking of getting on board with Google’s popular security system, now’s the safest time to jump in. If you see a green light on your Nest, you’ll know it’s on — and you’ll know if you’re the one who’s watching.

With a major flaw in one of its products being addressed, we can only hope that Google approaches some of its other privacy snafus with a fresher perspective than before. As we wade through wave after wave of privacy scandals, it’s becoming apparent that privacy is the wave of the future for tech. Companies would be wise to jump in before it’s too late.

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