The proliferation of smart-home devices has convinced many people that they need to deck out their homes with security cameras, as if they were Swiss banks, but some of the devices may be more intrusive than initially thought. It turns out that the popular Nest Cam security camera, formerly known as the Dropcam, never completely stops monitoring your home — even after you turn it off.
The Security Ledger first reported these findings, which came from a report compiled by Oyster Bay, New York-based tech firm ABI Research. An LED indicator is meant to let you know whether the Nest Cam is on or off, but ABI Research found that the camera drew more power in its Off mode than it did in its lowest-resolution video-recording mode. Other devices on standby, ABI Research's Jim Mielke said in a company blog posting, draw only a fraction of the power they use when they're fully on.
When it's powered on, the Nest Cam constantly captures video and audio and saves it to a short-term memory buffer. The captured footage is transmitted via an encrypted Wi-Fi connection to Nest's cloud services, then back down to the owner's computer or mobile device as a live stream. If unusual motion or sounds are detected, the device's owner is alerted. If the owner subscribes to Nest's cloud-storage service, a video clip is taken from the buffer and saved so that the device owner can review the clip later.
When the Nest Cam powers "off," its video and audio sensors, cloud uploads and motion and sound detection turn off, Nest spokesperson Zoz Cuccias told The Security Ledger. In effect, the camera is closing its eyes: It's still aware of its surroundings, but not actively watching.
But the Wi-Fi connection stays on so that the camera can be remotely woken up by the device owner or by other Nest devices in the home. Wi-Fi can take up a lot of power, which is why most IP cameras plug into the wall instead of running on batteries. The main reason the power drops at all during standby is because the LED light is off.
"When Nest Cam is turned off from the user interface, it does not fully power down, as we expect the camera to be turned on again at any point in time," Cuccias told Tom's Guide. "With that said, when Nest Cam is turned off, it completely stops transmitting video to the cloud, meaning it no longer observes its surroundings."
If you're really worried about privacy, you can always unplug the Nest Cam when you're not using it, so that it truly powers down. Buying a different brand of camera won't necessarily help: The Security Ledger pointed out that other smart-home cameras — especially baby monitors — are even less transparent about what their "off" modes actually do.