Google And Nest: Home Invasion Or Parlor Tricks?
January 15, 2014

Google And Nest: Home Invasion Or Parlor Tricks?

Much ado has been made over privacy concerns related to Google’s recent acquisition of Nest, a company that makes smart thermostats, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms. However, it’s difficult to see how Google knowing your preferred thermostat setting amounts to a virtual home invasion.

Google has said that Nest will stay a separate company and Nest has reportedly said it’s standing by its current privacy policy, which “clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services.”

But, even if Nest were to turn over user-specific data to Google, how the company might leverage that information into something valuable seems hard to fathom in 2014. While nobody can dispute the search giant’s online clout (and Google does have, or is developing, an impressive array of hardware), connecting the virtual and physical worlds isn’t really happening just yet.

For example, if Google were to come out with a refrigerator, the main draw would probably be a touchscreen popped into its surface, so a user could search for recipes, create an inventory or other activity that mashes together the worlds of food and the internet. But these are still internet-related activities that could easily be performed with a smartphone or tablet.

Think about it: all of your interactions with Google are predicated on internet activities. If you can unhook from the internet, and that’s a big if, Google suddenly becomes meaningless to your life.

For now, the real day-to-day impact of the Nest acquisition is simply Google expanding its brand, making you comfortable with the idea of the company having a physical presence in your life beyond the smartphone or tablet. Also, the company is coping with the notion that having a touchscreen or voice-activation on every device isn’t practical or a necessity; an argument some are even making about Google Glass.

To most people, a voice-activated smart home is literally a series of parlor tricks. Is opening up a smartphone app or giving a voice command really more convenient than flicking on a few light switches or programming your thermostat a single time?

Speaking to CNET, Nest co-founder Matt Rogers admitted as much, saying the mainstream smart home won’t be a reality for at least another ten years.

“I think it’s a decade. I think this is a very, very long road,” Rogers said during CNET panel at CES 2014 last week. “You look at the Internet during the 90s: small communities, not mainstream. Late 90s: much broader. But it really wasn’t until this last decade that it was mainstream.”

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Brett Smith is a freelance journalist from Buffalo, NY. When not writing about science, medicine or other newsworthy topics, he enjoys Upstate New York by camping and hiking in the summers and snowboarding in the winters. Like most Buffalonians, he eats chicken wings year round.

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