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By Stuart Soffer

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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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What’s Next for Nest?

Uploaded: Jan 17, 2014
Earlier this week Google announced that it would purchase Nest for $3.2 Billion. I am a fan of both companies, both innovators for which the Valley is known. But frankly I had some reservations.

Nest makes home integration and control technology, originally for a thermostat. I always found analog, battery thermostats a challenge, never having instructions, never programming them often enough to know how to schedule a week of heating or cooling. This probably wasted a lot of energy. Along comes Nest designing a simple product in the tradition of Apple that replaces your old analog thermostat wire-for wire. As long as you have wireless in the house, you can control the Nest devices via mobile applications. In the year and a half since I installed the Nest our utility bills went way down (to be fair, we also remodeled which installed insulation for the first time).

I was seduced by a neighbor's Nest, but was reluctant to install it due to privacy concerns. (I study Internet privacy issues as new technologies proliferate.) Key to Nest intelligence is the sensors and software that can recognize when you're away from home and automatically reduce usage. So, it can tell when you're away – and so can Nest Inc. There is a tradeoff here between convenience and privacy. Still I'm a fan of the device for its simplicity and how it elegantly solved a common problem. And I know management at Nest who insist there is no privacy issue.

Which brings me to the acquisition by Google. Google is a great data aggregator from multiple sources, and analyzes user interests and behavior to provide improved product offering. And the Nest data is potentially one more vector in their analysis. That 's a concern.

Comments

Posted by no secrets, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jan 18, 2014 at 10:04 pm

I guess I'd rather entrust Google with my secrets than the NSA. As if I had a choice, which I don't.

Interestingly enough, this is the week that 110 million people received an email from Target admonishing us to do a better job protecting our personal data (as if it was the collective fault of customers that the Target system was hacked). The scary aspect of this email is that many of us who received it had not shopped at a Target, did not carry a Target credit card, entered Target sweepstakes, liked the Target Facebook page, etc. Apparently Target had procured our personal data from another source -- and had not protected it.

Where does it end? Between Google, the government, and hackers, privacy is an illusion.


Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jan 19, 2014 at 7:52 am

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

One comment I just heard regarding this transaction: Google acquired some Apple DNA.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Jan 20, 2014 at 11:33 am

I once heard an "expert" on internet security say there were two ways to protect our privacy.

The first way is for individuals to never give out personal information to anyone for any reason. Of course, this isn't practical if we are going to exist in today's world. It simply doesn't work.

The second way is for individuals to freely give out personal information and then pass laws making it illegal for (or suing) companies when they intentionally or unintentionally release that information. This is how we have chosen to do it. It simply doesn't work, either.


Posted by no secrets, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jan 21, 2014 at 11:11 am

POGO, I know people who've tried the first way. It's not just impractical, it's impossible, unless you are in this country illegally. Your birth certificate, your school attendance, your immigration/naturalization, driver's license, social security number -- everything is readily available online. You don't have to own a computer, have a Facebook account or even an email address. Your records are out there.

I don't think Google is going to use Nest to figure out the best time to break into my house. That wouldn't work so well for them. But long-term, who knows what they'll do with that info.


Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jan 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

Coincidentally I learned a bit yesterday. I'm in Munich at a conference and watched Laurie Segall of CNN interview Tony Fadell, founder and CEO of Nest.

From my notes:
Why google? The intellectual stimulation from Sergei Brin and Larry Page of Google; they were "finishing each other's sentences" during the courtship. It was a long process; he was spending too much time on corporate infrastructure growth and not enough time on products.

Regarding Privacy: (Nest) can collect data to make products better. That continues. If the privacy policy changes, users can opt in.

Regarding "DNA," which Laurie mentioned, Steve Jobs showed him what it means to make great experiences.


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