What does the little green light above a camera mean to you? Does it mean your camera is on and recording? Does it mean that when the light is off, the camera is off? That’s the general rule, but it’s hard to know just what’s going on with the cameras in our laptops, webcams, and smart TVs when we’re not actively using them. A new report suggests that the Nest Cam could potentially still run even after users have switched them off.
According to ABI Research, a technology market research firm, Alphabet’s Nest Cam doesn’t really power down when users turn it off. ABI tore down a Nest Cam to see what was really happening when the device is still plugged in, but switched off. Jim Mielke, a researcher at ABI, told Security Ledger that the amperage used by the device only decreases slightly between “on” and “off” mode, meaning most of the device’s functionality is still receiving power. “Basically, you have an LED that says ‘on’ and ‘off ‘ that shuts off—and that’s about it,” he said.
Many electronic devices will draw less power when they go into standby mode, but ABI concludes that the Nest is still using nearly as much power when it’s supposed to be off. “It appears Nest Cam is working around the clock,” Mielke said in his research.
Nest told Quartz that when one of its cameras is turned off from the mobile app, it doesn’t fully power down, in case someone wants to turn it right back on.
“With that said, when Nest Cam is turned off, it completely stops transmitting video to the cloud, meaning it no longer observes its surroundings,” a representative added.
But Mielke said the fact that the camera is ostensibly still running—albeit not actively recording—could lead to privacy concerns. There are guides online for hacking webcams so that the owners don’t know they’re being used, and it’ll be down to the strength of the camera’s owner’s network to make sure that no unwanted guests can access the device.
Perhaps put a cloth over the lens when you’re not using it—just to make sure.