What Does Google’s Acquisition of Nest Mean?

January 14, 2014
Nest Thermostat

This week Google announced the acquisition of Nest for $3.2 billion. Nest is a young but quickly growing tech company founded by Apple veterans Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers. Nest creates “smart thermostats and smoke detectors” that learn your behaviors and adjust usage accordingly. Operated in the cloud, Nest smoke detectors can send your phone a message when the battery is running low and the thermostats can be similarly regulated from a mobile device. It programs itself to run your energy usage more efficiently and becomes more intuitive over time based on your home energy consumption patterns.

The Internet of Things

Google sits on over 56 billion in cash so this investment, however mind-boggling to me, won’t break the bank. What the acquisition does however is provide Google with an opportunity to become more product-focused with product that should be relatively easy to integrate into their other existing platforms. Google is busy in your living spaces currently through Android and Chromecast, the streaming TV gadget, as well as computers and tablets, however as Larry Dignan points out in a piece he wrote this week,    “Google’s purchase highlights the importance of the internet of things.” The internet of things is an increasingly popular description of ‘uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.’  Sounds suspiciously Orwellian and cryptic to this 39 year old but I also get it.  The technology silo is starting to breakdown and through the internet, we’re starting to see the interconnectedness of product, data, communication and lifestyle.  Google bought expertise and the gateway drug to intuitive product and product that can create a greater level of entanglement between consumer and provider (Google).   If Fadell stays with Google, which I am inclined to think he will based on interviews, they will have the global platform and muscle to realize their goal for smart, internet-based product development and sales.

Privacy Concerns

Talking to one of our developers this morning who had concerns about the prospect of being hammered with Google ads every time she adjusts her thermostat, I got to thinking about other drawbacks.  What does Google do with this information it learns about my family and our home through it’s intuitive product?   Having just watched “Her” this weekend about the love affair between a man and an advanced, learning operating system, my enthusiasm with this technology is tempered by my fear that we’re fast approaching a time when critical thinking won’t be necessary.  Our products will tell us what we like and don’t like, what we should see, listen to and with whom we should correspond and know. When Fadell was specifically asked whether or not customer data should be shared with Google, his response did not ease my worried mind.  “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services. We’ve always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.”  I’m curious what and who defines the improvement of Nests products and how do we know this adherence to data protection will remain under Google?