Researchers Say Google's Nest Cam Never Turns Off

Illustration for article titled Researchers Say Google's Nest Cam Never Turns Off

A team of researchers did a teardown of Google’s Nest Cam and discovered that even when the user turns it off, the camera continues to function.


ABI researchers examined the security cam’s power consumption, concluding that when the Nest Cam is “turned off” via its app, the LED light indeed goes away—but the device itself keeps running.

According to the BBC:

Even when in “off” mode, the camera on the Nest Cam continued to draw a current of 340 mA, indicating that it was, in fact, still operational.

“When a device goes to power down mode, you expect the current drain to drop quite a bit,” said Jim Mielke, a senior analyst at ABI Research.

“In this case, the current drain only changed slightly when given the turn off command, reducing from 370 mA to 340 mA. Typically, a shutdown or standby mode would reduce current by as much as 10 to 100 times.”

At first this seems to evoke a recurring paranoid fear: our web/smart cams are always on and watching us, accessible by hackers or companies or the government or what have you. But a statement from Nest suggests there’s nothing nefarious at foot:

When Nest Cam is turned off from the user interface (UI), it does not fully power down, as we expect the camera to be turned on again at any point in time.

With that said, when Nest Cam is turned off, it completely stops transmitting video to the cloud, meaning it no longer observes its surroundings.

The Google-owned Nest Labs’ rep also notes that the devices have “128-bit secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption, perfect forward secrecy and a 2,048-bit RSA key unique to each camera.”

Yet the data was a significant enough finding for the ABI Research breakdown team to publish, pointing to possible privacy concerns. Here’s what they saw:

Illustration for article titled Researchers Say Google's Nest Cam Never Turns Off

Source: ABI Research

“This means that even when a consumer thinks that he or she is successfully turning off this camera, the device is still running, which could potentially unleash a tidal wave of privacy concerns,” Jim Mielke, ABI Research’s Vice President of Teardowns said. “It appears Nest Cam is working around the clock.”


[BBC; ABI Research]

Top image via Nest Labs



Vampiric gadgets are pretty common. Many TVs, for example, do not turn off completely; only the display part gets shut off. How much is this adding to your power bill? Math time:

The Nest Dropcam is powered by a USB cable. which means that it’s operating on 5 V. Looking at the figures, we can set a ceiling of 450 mA. That’s roughly 2.3 watts.

Watts are a measure of energy drawn per second. There are 3600 seconds in an hour, and 8760 hours in a year (365.25 days). So the total amount of energy used by the Dropcam is about 20 kWh.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. residential customer used 11,000 kWh in 2014, with a minimum of 6,100 kWh in Hawaii and a maximum of 15,500 kWh in Louisiana. This means that a Dropcam would account for 0.1% to 0.3% of a household’s power usage.

EIA figures for the month of August show that the U.S price for electricity was 12.93 cents/kWh on average, with a minimum of 9.36 cents/kWh in Washington (thanks to cheap hydroelectric power, which generates 30% of all electricity generated in the U.S.) and a max of 29.87 cents/kWh in Hawaii (imports a significant amount of coal and petroleum for power generation). Because I don’t have the time to pull up the data for each month, I’m going to use those rates. Using those rates, 20 kWh would cost you each year an average of $2.60, a minimum of $1.90, and a maximum of $6.00. This compares to a whole house average of $1,400.