Google's Nest Recalls Smoke Detector - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Cloud // Software as a Service
09:24 AM
Connect Directly

Google's Nest Recalls Smoke Detector

Algorithm-detection flaw may misread any nearby motion as a command to silence an alarm.

8 Gadgets For The High-Tech Home
8 Gadgets For The High-Tech Home
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Google's Nest Labs is recalling about 440,000 smoke detectors because activity near the devices can be misinterpreted as a command to silence the alarm.

The company, acquired in January by Google for $3.2 billion, identified the problem in early April. CEO Tony Fadell said in a blog post at the time that recent laboratory testing of the Nest Protect: Smoke + Carbon Monoxide alarm revealed that the device's Nest Wave feature, which allows users to turn off the alarm with a wave of the hand, could be activated inadvertently, thereby preventing the device's alarm from sounding during a fire.

A list of frequently asked questions posted by Nest Labs indicates that the flaw lies in the Nest Wave algorithm, which analyzes motion detection data. Nest Labs halted sales of its smoke detector voluntarily last month and temporarily addressed the issue through a software update that disables Nest Wave. The recall notice formalizes the company's response to the problem through the involvement of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

[OK Google, tell me about my new Chromebook features. See Chrome OS Update Improves Security, Supports Folders.]

The recall does not require removing the device and sending it back to Nest. The CPSC says that customers who have not connected their Nest Protect to the Internet through a WiFi network should do so to receive a software update that disables Nest Wave. Customers with devices already connected to the Internet are advised to confirm that the Nest Wave feature has been disabled by checking the Nest Sense section of their Nest account via Nest's mobile application or the Web.

Nest Labs has not received any reports of incidents, injuries, or property damage arising from this issue, according to the CPSC. Nest Protect is not currently available. When it was being sold, it cost about $130 and was available from Best Buy, Home Depot, and other retailers, as well as from,,, and Nest's website.

Between 1999 and 2010, deaths due to unintentional, non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning averaged about 430 annually in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CPSC says that in 2010, there were 161 unintentional non-fire carbon monoxide poisoning deaths associated with consumer products under the CPSC's jurisdiction.

Consumer product recalls occur fairly often, at a rate of around 80 per quarter. But they're new for Google, which wasn't a hardware company (apart from its Search Appliance and its home-grown data center hardware) until two years ago, when it acquired Motorola Mobility (since sold to Lenovo). The Nest Protect recall appears to be the first recall for a Google company. Last year, Google helped coordinate a HP Chromebook 11 recall that involved a faulty charger.

IT is turbocharging BYOD, but mobile security practices lag behind the growing risk. Also in the Mobile Security issue of InformationWeek: These seven factors are shaping the future of identity as we transition to a digital world. (Free registration required.)

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 8:38:18 PM
First GM recalls, now Google
Google's roots lie in being a service company creating new products out of software. Just because it has the dough to acquire a hardware device company doesn't mean it automatically has become a competent hardware company. It may yet become one, but clearly some lessons are going to have to be learned the hard way.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 4:14:37 PM
Re: Algorithm?
Nest missed the boat on voice recognition. "Alarm off" is a lot less prone to misinterpretation than trying to calculate the intention of a gesture.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 11:30:17 AM
Re: Algorithm?
Why not have a PIN that you can enter to shut the thing off in case of dinner burning? Heck, you could write the PIN in Sharpie on the device. 

Although, of course, a keypad or *horrors* Sharpie graffiti would desecrate the design asthetic.
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 9:37:14 AM
Google, welcome to the world of mass consumer product manufacturing.
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

10 Things Your Artificial Intelligence Initiative Needs to Succeed
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  4/20/2021
Tech Spending Climbs as Digital Business Initiatives Grow
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  4/22/2021
Optimizing the CIO and CFO Relationship
Mary E. Shacklett, Technology commentator and President of Transworld Data,  4/13/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Planning Your Digital Transformation Roadmap
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Flash Poll