Google plans to watch you at home
GOOGLE has revealed plans to put smart cameras in people's lounge rooms that are capable of identifying faces, following users around the room, and streaming footage over the internet.
The camera will be part of a new $349 smart speaker due in Australia in the coming months, and was unveiled at Google's annual developers' conference in California this morning.
But privacy advocates are likely to take exception to the device, which follows a controversial connected camera device from Facebook that launched in the US last year to poor sales.
Experts have warned the watchful devices will "not be for everyone" and Australians have already proven more concerned about protecting their privacy from tech giants than users in other countries.
Google hardware senior vice-president Rick Osterloh unveiled the Google Nest Hub Max device at Google I/O, revealing it would feature a 10-inch screen, two far-field microphones, and a wide-angle camera.
Mr Osterloh said the camera was designed to stream video from inside the home to smartphones, host video calls, and recognise the faces of family members standing in front of it.
Once it had identified a user, the Hub would log into their Google account and show private information on screen, including appointments and messages, he said.
The camera was also designed to follow users around the room to keep them in the centre of the frame during video calls, and could recognise users within seconds.
Google Home product manager Ashton Udall conceded some users might be concerned about having an internet-connected camera trained on them at home, but stressed facial recognition and vide-streaming features were optional.
"We are a guest in people's homes, that's how we think of ourselves, and as such we need to respect their preferences around privacy," he said.
"We think that these features are actually going to provide a lot of value to people in the home and that they're going to want to opt in to them. We wanted to make sure we gave people that functionality."
Mr Udall said the $349 device would also feature a "private mode switch" to shut down its camera and microphones, though the switch could only be accessed on the device rather than from afar.
Google's launch of a smart camera follows the rollout of Facebook's controversial camera-packed Portal gadget that was described as "the worst tech device of the year".
The Portal's camera was also designed to follow users' faces around their homes and automatically log them into Facebook.
The social media giant recently cut the price of the device in half due to poor sales but announced plans to roll it out worldwide this year regardless.
Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said the addition of internet-connected cameras was likely to further discourage purchases from families concerned about protecting their privacy.
"They're not going to be for everyone - there are households that are never going to be accepting of a smart speaker," he said.
"If a consumer is worried about privacy, they're not going to buy one."
About 13 per cent of Australians own a smart speaker, according to a recent study by Edison Research, compared to 23 per cent of Americans.
Mr Fadaghi said Australians were "probably about 12 to 18 months behind America" in terms of smart device adoption, only five per cent of smart speakers in the country use featured a screen, and most were being used to stream music from services such as Spotify rather than deliver video calls.
Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson travelled to Mountain View as a guest of Google.