Privacy in the Nest?

Perhaps you heard the big tech news from Monday: a company called Nest was bought by a company called Google. And ever since then, there’s been quite the hubbub over this.

I’ve seen Twitter posts from people threatening to rip the devices from the wall if this really goes through…Never mind the fact that doing that would keep your furnace from functioning, but whatever…


But, for the uninitiated, Nest makes two products: the first is an elegant, brilliant, and wildly overpriced thermostat that “learns” how you adjust the temperature in your home during the day.

Yep, it’s a programmable thermostat, a lot like the one I’ve got hanging on my wall, except that mine didn’t cost $250.

Okay, except that mine isn’t as pretty, doesn’t “learn” my habits (I’ve had to program specific times to heat up and cool down manually)…oh, and mine doesn’t connect to the internet so I can control the damned thing over the web.

The second product is new, but it’s hot as well: a souped up, internet connected smoke detector. And I understand the appeal of this product even less than the $250 thermostat.

The yelling about Google’s purchase of Nest centers entirely around the fact that it’s Google buying them. And my guess for the reasoning is that Nest products have that Apple-like simplicity, design aesthetic, and price point. Never mind that they’re internet connected, and that they’re one step closer to the ultimate technological goal of a network-connected house. The bottom line in this entire argument seems to be that it was Google that bought them. Big, bad Google.

I read this column today that talked about it, and how this writer doesn’t trust Google. But does that mean he trusts all of the other information scrubbers in his life? I mean, I think we can make some assumptions from his article: First, the dude’s got an iPhone. So it isn’t Google collecting his data, it’s AT&T or Verizon AND Apple (and his assertion that Google cooperated with the NSA should be amended to show that Apple admitted to doing the same thing, though they’re arguing now that they didn’t actually help the NSA hack iPhones). His provider knows where he is all the time, except for when the phone is off or doesn’t have a signal.

Second, he’s got internet access at home. Whoever is providing the access is capturing what sites he goes to, and how long he spends there.

Third, he’s probably got cable or satellite, or at least Netflix or Hulu or some other streaming service. And they all track what you watch, how much you watch and the like.

And fourth, he’s unbelievably naive to think that no one he purchases any of these services from doesn’t sell his information and data to anyone else. You’ve got to be holed up in a shack on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean these days to not have some sort of footprint reverberating across the internet.

To top it all off, remember that Nest products connect to the internet. For convenience, you know…Not to call back to the mothership once in a while with some tidbit of information, I’m sure…

He makes a valid point, though, that Google gets questioned on their privacy policy and how they use all of the massive amounts of data they’ve acquired. I know that Google knows a lot about me based on my internet searches, where I go with my phone, who my contacts are, where I live, and the like. But I’m getting services from them that I value, and they’re providing them for free with the understanding that they could use some of my information as long as it wasn’t the really personal, private stuff.

Apple isn’t nearly as transparent. And from what I’ve read, they collect and sell an awful lot of information about their users as well.

This kind of thing puzzles me. We expect these connections and services to be a one-way street, where we use a product and provide a great deal of information and do not expect that it will be shared. It’s the same as the NSA revelations–I’m astounded that people really believed that no part of our government was doing any kind of spying on its own citizens. Apparently just now, we’re learning to be skeptical about our government’s interests and actions.

Are we as consumers that naive?

So what if Google owns Nest. Even if they do collect all of the data from the little thermostat and attach it to your Google account, what more have they learned? That you wake up at 5:30 and crank the heat to 78 because you have cold feet? That changes absolutely nothing about the product or the user experience.

So all of you who have complained about the purchase, get a grip. Go back to your iPads and keep trying to believe that Apple isn’t logging what you’re doing right now.

See you tomorrow.