How Nest’s Tiny Green Light Inspired Revolt

Consumers don’t always see tech product updates as improvements

Thomas Smith
Modus
Published in
14 min readDec 26, 2019

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Images courtesy of Gado Images.

InIn August 2019, Google made a change to a tiny green light on its Nest security cameras. The company was probably totally unprepared for the complete horror-show that followed.

The episode began innocently enough when Google decided to do some digital housekeeping. Across their brands, they took lots of little steps to shore up their privacy practices. This was in response to legislative changes in Europe, a political climate that increasingly emphasizes data freedom, and other relatively mundane factors.

One of their targets was Nest, Google’s popular home automation company. Google zeroed in on a toggle in the interface for Nest’s home surveillance cameras. By default, a little green light glows on the front of the Nest camera when it’s recording. The toggle allowed users to switch off the light, keeping the camera dark even when it was in use.

Green light on a Nest camera which is actively recording.

Recording without a status light—and thus potentially without peoples' knowledge—was an issue, the company decided. This feature should probably be disabled. Google sent out a friendly email to Nest users updating them about the change.

Then, all hell broke loose.

Users took to social media to lambast, scream at, and digitally crucify Google. Here’s an example post from Google’s forums, from user ch8417:

Stupidest. Move. EVER. Google Stop forcing your left-wing ideas on half the country. Just because YOU want the bad people to know they’re being recorded does NOT mean that *I* do. Why do you think I bought this camera in the first place??????? STOP THIS NOW. Bring back MY privacy.

Believe it or not, many comments were even angrier — and more political. Users were threatening to boycott the Nest brand or dispose of all their existing Nest products in some kind of Bonfire of the Cameras.

Why all this vitriol over a tiny green light?

To understand why Google’s change nearly prompted a user revolt, we have to take…

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