Quiet, the thermostat may be listening
In January, Google paid $3.2 billion for Nest. Why? The short answer is that Google wanted to get its foot in the front door of the smart home – read your home in about five years. Nest currently makes a thermostat that adjusts to living patterns and a smoke detector that’s networked with it. Google, on the other hand, makes its money from advertising products that are keyed to customer desires determined by meticulously tracking web surfing behaviour. When the acquisition was announced, Valleywag, a Silicon Valley gossip blog tweeted: “If your house is burning down you’ll now get gmail ads for fire extinguishers.”
The extra value Google perceives in Nest is its ability to collect information from a variety of devices and share it. The thermostat, for example, “learns” to regulate temperatures in rooms according to your comings and goings. This is the early days for these devices but even now, Thermostat (above) can tell Protect whether you’re in the house or not, something that would be most useful to firefighters summoned by the device.
As they proliferate and grow smarter, they will build a picture of human behaviour that is able to anticipate what we want in much the same way that present shopping algorithms tap into our buying preferences.
In a more immediate example, a smart-home thermostat will soon be able to connect directly to the smart metres currently being installed by electric utilities across the country. Working together, they will provide a great deal of information about you by tracking your precise use of electricity, which the utilities can use to better allocate electricity use across the provincial and, ultimately, the continental grid.
On the face of it such uses are a good thing, the aim is to make your life simpler and more pleasant by taking care of mundane tasks – fiddling with your thermostat to find the right balance between comfort and cost. There is, though, a price to pay in loss of privacy.
We fret today about identity theft on the web, tomorrow we may have to worry about the tales our toasters and refrigerators conspire to tell the whole wide world. nest.com.
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