The Google Nest Hub Max seems like a pretty smart device--even if the name could use some work. It also has some pretty cool features. For example, the device will display the calendar or content customized for the person who happens to be looking at it, without them having to log on. That sounds really cool, but in order for it to work, there's one giant catch.
It's literally always watching you.
That's because the Google Nest Hub Max's front-facing camera is always on so it can detect and analyze faces and determine whom it's interacting with. That also means that the device can be controlled with a series of gestures. I guess that's cool, but Google wanting to put a camera in my house that's always on? What could possibly go wrong?
In the company's defense, there is a hardware switch to turn off the camera, and an option in the software menu (though no physical shutter). Google says that the profile of your face is stored on the device, but that's accompanied by the standard disclaimer that your information is "also temporarily processed at Google from time to time to improve the quality of your experience with this device." I feel like we've heard that before.
Google also says that you can view or delete the images it uses for Face Match at myactivity.google.com, which is where you can review all of the information the company stores about you. I don't know if the fact that I can review those images on Google's servers make me feel better. Probably not.
I guess if you already have a Nest camera in your home, this really isn't a big deal, but there's a reason a lot of people don't have one: because it's Google.
Personalized content and Google Assistant
Having a device that automatically knows who you are and adjusts the content it displays based on that recognition sounds really cool. I actually have the Google Nest Hub Max sitting on my kitchen counter, since I figured I should give it a try if I'm going to write about it. When I walk up, it shows me TV shows it thinks I'm interested in on YouTube TV, events on my calendar, and other content based on all of the things Google knows about me.
Because it has Google Assistant baked in, it can also control the GE C-Life smart LED lights and the Chromecast in our living room, play music via Spotify (it's actually a pretty good smart speaker), or set the temperature on our Nest thermostat, all by voice command. It even works as a Nest cam, so you can keep an eye on things when you're not home. Again, all of that is undoubtedly very cool.
But it's also super creepy when you think about it. Just because something is cool doesn't mean I want it in my house.
Think about it for a minute. Google says it uses the same facial recognition technology that lets it identify your family members in Google Photos. In theory, at least, that means that the Nest Hub Max is able to identify who lives with you and who comes to visit, just by scanning their face and matching it to their existing database of facial profiles.
Which is a big deal, because I don't know if there's any way around the fact that Google has a trust problem when it comes to protecting people's personal information. After all, the company has essentially built its entire business model around monetizing your information.
Do you trust Google?
Trust is a big thing, and the reality is that a lot of people simply don't trust tech companies like Google. In fact, I had a hard time linking my Nest account to the Google Home app because I wasn't sure I wanted Google to know when I'm home and when I'm not. Now there's a video camera that keeps an eye on me and knows when I'm standing in my kitchen and shows me personalized content.
And that's just in my kitchen. No way is one of these ever ending up in one of our bedrooms. I don't need a personalized view of anything that badly.
I don't know exactly where the line is between amazing technology with cool features, and creepy Big Brother tech company knowing way too much about our personal lives, except that it's there somewhere. The problem is that the only way we find the line is when it's already been crossed.
Cool technology comes at a cost
That said, one application for which I can definitely see a benefit is in a shared office or workspace. Having a device that is able to control things like lights and temperature is great, but even better is the fact that it can also show the calendar for whoever happens to be using the space. It also has some pretty cool video chat features if you use Google Duo.
The Nest Hub Max is definitely a cool piece of technology. It's also pretty practical if the smart-home revolution is your thing. I am just not sure I can get past the possibility that it's just one more way for my personal information to be compromised. When it happens, there's no super-cool feature worth that cost.