Google pays $3.2 billion for Nest, a smart-home gadget maker

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Privacy

Google-NestGoogle just spent $3.2 billion on a fancy thermostat and smoke alarm maker called Nest.

That might not sound exciting, so let's put it another way: Google has just bought itself a company that can serve as its hardware entrance into the internet of all things, which means that Big Google Brother will be able to know even more intimate things about us than it already does, such as, potentially, whether we're home or not.

Google's latest acquisition makes thermostats that learn, tracking customers' daily usage to automatically set heating and cooling temperatures and thereby save on energy costs.

In addition, Nest's smoke alarms communicate with the company's other devices or with your smartphone or tablet via WiFi. If your smoke or carbon monoxide alarm goes off, you'll get a message, wherever you are.

Privacy advocates are worried about Google getting its hands on data that could include such things as whether we're home or not, which it could easily connect with our mobile phone data to form ever-more-deep portraits of us for ever-more-targeted advertising or other profit-rich ventures.

The concern comes in spite of Nest's insistence that its customer data will be used only to improve its services.

To echo Brian Fung, writing for The Washington Post, we should ask, what will happen to Nest's user data after the acquisition?

Nest's data is now handled by Amazon Web Services, The New York Times's Quentin Hardy reports, but buckle in: Google might well move to get the data onto its Compute Engine public cloud lickety-split.

And after all, surely Nest is in no position to rule out sharing its data with Google, given that Google could simply rewrite Nest's privacy policy, pointed out David Jacobs, a consumer protection lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

In talking to the Washington Post, Jacobs noted that Google's done it before:

Google has made several changes to its privacy policies and its business practices. Whenever it does, the message to consumers is, 'You accept the changes or you use something else.' There's nothing really stopping the companies from changing their mind down the road and deciding to use it for advertising or something else.

And what will happen to existing Nest users? Will they be allowed to opt-out of sharing their information with Google, or will they have no choice?

Matt Rogers, Nest's founder and vice president of engineering, blogged reassuringly to customers, saying that the company has "always taken privacy seriously and this will not change."

Well, that would be nice. But remember who we're talking about.

Google already has our personal data, and now it's getting the chance to get at our home data - when we're away, when we've had a fire and what our power bills amount to.

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10 Responses to Google pays $3.2 billion for Nest, a smart-home gadget maker

  1. bob · 593 days ago

    Maybe Google wants to run our whole houses for us! Wouldn't that be neat? they could even let random people on Google+ come into our house without asking us!

  2. MikeP_UK · 592 days ago

    Simple solution, don't buy from this Google company- there are plenty of others in the field. Or don't use any such internet enabled devices, use good programmers and controllers that you can set and adjust to suit your lifestyle needs without interaction/interference from any other company.
    Remember, if it's not connected to the internet they can't read it or interfere with it.

  3. Spryte · 592 days ago

    "... insistence that its customer data will be used only to improve its services."

    Now let me think. Have I not heard that before?

  4. Todd H · 592 days ago

    Don’t connect it to the internet and google won't know your info (through this way at least since everything else you use is a google product). Keep it on a separate, non-internet facing wireless network for internal use only, like changing the temp from your bed at 3:45 am if you must have that feature. Updates??? Well if they keep the same update track as NEST was on, the device just got worse every update, so if it’s not broke, don't patch it!! As with everything else why would you put your home temperature trust in a device that will surely go the way of the heart monitor and show up as a new talk at DEFCON titled, "Making your neighbors insane! From Sahara to Artic in only a few clicks". No thanks. The features would be fun to have to monitor usage rates and track other statistics, but not at the price of privacy or security.

  5. Deramin · 592 days ago

    The knob on the radiator in my house has worked just fine for 100 years, thank you very much. Not one of those "smart" gadgets will. And only the public power utility and I know about my usage habits. Even better, only I know how many times I've set off the fire alarm while cooking. I certainly don't want that information floating around somewhere my insurance company can get their greedy hands on it and jack up my rates.

    I don't even fault Google for slurping up all this data. We're the idiots who keep giving it to them. We know the cost of this convenience, and we apparently don't care. If Google doesn't get this sort of data directly, they'll get it through a side channel. The idea of the smart home isn't bad in theory, but the real issue is the data isn't used and stored by us, it's stored and used by someone else and we basically borrow it. So until we see the folly in that, I'll keep my money under the mattress and my sturdy old wise home.

  6. Anonymous · 592 days ago

    The nest sucks. Maybe Google can fix some of the glaring engineering problems the thermostat has.

  7. SumGuy954 · 592 days ago

    Privacy is dead.

    Some day privacy will be a great myth of the past.

  8. Some folk may be able to skip the issue of privacy with these devices. I can't. Anyone purchasing these thermostats with the intention to save costs of heating / air conditioning best know exactly what they are paying in said costs.

    I have three Honeywell RH230B programmable thermostats which have been working flawlessly (heat only) for six years. Base cost of the three units was US $81.00 ($27.00 each). Three Nest thermostats currently retail for $249.00 each (Amazon), or $747.00.

    If one is losing that much money in heating / cooling costs, I submit they have a far greater issue than just that of replacing thermostats.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.