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Google Home Hub says no to smart-home cameras in your bedroom



  010-google-home-hub

Looking at it does not look back to you.


Sarah Tew / CNET

The new Google Home Hub features a 7-inch touchscreen, a textured full-range speaker, a light sensor and two long-range microphones. But even more interesting is a hardware feature it does not have.

The $ 149 has no camera so you can not use it for video calls or taking photos.

Although the first blush outlay does not seem like a big deal, there are a handful of hassle questions about how many cameras and microphones people want in their connected homes and how much they trust giant technology companies to protect their data and privacy in their most intimate rooms.

Hometown Google introduced on its Created by Google Product launch event Tuesday in Manhattan, is a mashup of a smart speaker and a tablet commonly called a smart screen. It uses the voice-driven Google Assistant to let you play YouTube videos, check home-check camera feeds, and control connected smartphone devices as lights.

The device will go against a growing list of competing smart monitors, including Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo Show and Echo Spot, the new Facebook Portal and Google Assistant -Powered JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display. All five of these devices include cameras for video calls.

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The Hub comes out when technology companies face a larger review for how they manage users data and how much data they hold. Just this week, Google closed its unpopular Google+ social network after the company was forced to reveal an error that compromised the user's data. Earlier this year, Facebook held criticism after millions of people's data landed in the hands of the Cambridge Analytica consulting firm who used the information for targeted election ads.

At the same time, many of the same companies are asking consumers to add more and more cameras, microphones and sensors to control their homes.

So far, smart-home customers have not raised persistent concerns about these devices that track them, instead focusing more on the convenience they can offer. But that dynamic has the potential to change rapidly if there is ever a major breach of the audio, video and shopping data these electronics can track.

When the hub comes out on October 22, consumers will decide if they want to make the Hub more successful than its many rival cameras. Whether they are more with the privacy of having a camera or the convenience of video features, it can signal what direction smart home technology will go in the future.

"It's a little less is more," said GlobalData analyst Avi Greengart, who participated in the Google event. "They omit a piece of hardware that costs money and increases some privacy implications."

Google's View of Going Without Camera

Although Amazon has in particular pushed full power to offer smart speakers with cameras, including those marketed for the bedroom, Google took a different approach to Hub.

"For us, it's generally not about a product or another, just the word camera – hi, put a camera in your bedroom," said Mark Spates, Google's smart management product team, on Tuesday's event. "It's a comfort thing. For us, we wanted to make sure you could use this anywhere in the home."

Google wanted to give customers the option after people found the Google Home Mini – the most popular smart speaker – in times, laundry, bedrooms, and anywhere in the home, he said. Want to build on minis success and avoid limiting where the hub can go, he said that Google chose to post a camera.

Diya Jolly, Google Vice President of Product Management, added that her company saw an opportunity to offer another kind of smart screen, as more competing devices already offer a camera. She said that Google was willing to explore adding a camera to a later version, but "we wanted to see how consumers reacted and how they liked" the new hub.

"We wanted to give users a choice not to have a camera," she said. "There are many other devices out there that have camera, but no one without camera."

  Amazon echo spot

Amazon marketing echo spot as a nightstand watch.


Amazon

In stark contrast to Hub, competing smart screens compete heavily for their video features. The Facebook portal was created specifically for Facebook Messenger video calls, and Amazon's Echo Show and Spot have been marketed for their video features. Amazon even included a drop-in feature that allows people to automatically connect to a Show or Spot if they have been approved to do so by the device owner.

Amazon also created another product called Echo Look, which is marketed for your bedroom or closet. It uses a camera to take pictures of the outfit's choice to give you AI-powered fashion advice. The Spot, also, is marketed as a replacement for your bedroom bedside table.

Privacy In Focus

In a nod to privacy concerns, Facebook, JBL and Lenovo offer physical privacy codes for their smart monitors. Amazon does not instead offer a button to disable the microphone and camera on Vis and Spot.

"Customers have made millions of video calls this year alone and they tell us that they love the ability to let in from room to room at home or take a picture on our devices and therefore we think the camera is important," said Jill. Tornifoglio, an Amazon spokeswoman.

"We have also built these devices with privacy in mind from the beginning," she added, saying that when you press the microphone / camera-off button, it unplugs power to both Also, a red light on the device is used to reinforce the fact that the microphone and the camera are off. "We will continue to learn from our customers and customize our products to best meet your needs."

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So hi to the Facebook portal.


James Martin / CNET

Following Facebook's privacy, the company took pain to emphasize the portal's privacy features, including the ability to turn off the microphone and the camera with one click and a password to unlock the screen.

Both Amazon and Facebook said they do not register, save or listen to your conversations via Facebook's portal or Amazon's Alexa-powered devices.

JBL and Lenovo did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Basically, leaving a camera, Google avoids privacy processes occupied by Amazon's rival products and prevents a potentially messy video breach from ever before. Amazon met criticism for Look, with an author of Forbes that suggests that his camera one day can identify skin cancer or depression. Amazon strongly denied these allegations.

"Amazon tries something completely different," Greengart said. "I do not think it hurts Google to omit it and for people who want a camera, it's the alternatives from Amazon and Google's partners."

CNET's Rich Brown contributed to this story.

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