Google Just Moved Into Your House

The search giant buys Nest, a startup that makes “smart” thermostats and smoke alarms. So why are people nervous?

By Andrew Leonard

Nest-cooling-with-leaf-620x412If I had a nickel for every joke made on Twitter about Skynet, Hal (from “2001: A Space Oddysey”) and the possibility that future homeowners will be required to log into their Google+ account to change the settings on their thermostat in the fifteen minutes after Google announced it was buying the home automation startup Nest, well, I might have enough money to buy my own up-and-coming startup.

Or maybe not. Google will pay a stunning $3.2 billion in cash for the buzzy maker of “smart” thermostats and smoke alarms — “one of the hottest names in energy-management technology and product design” — according to GigaOm. That’s an awful lot of Skynet jokes.

But when Nest founder Tony Fadell (a former Apple engineer who was one of the leaders of the original iPod team) says in his own announcement of the deal that “from the beginning, our vision was to create a conscious home” you can kind of understand the nervousness. Google already knows a lot about our everyday actions — now the company will have access to sensors with intimate knowledge of our physical activity inside our own homes. Substitute the word “Google” for “Nest” in a Wired feature by Steven Levy  from last October: “Nest is all about exploiting the growing infrastructure of sensors and connectivity around us. ”

The algorithms created by Nest’s machine-learning experts—and the troves of data generated by those algorithms—are just as important as the sleek materials carefully selected by its industrial designers. By tracking its users and subtly influencing their behavior, the Nest Learning Thermostat transcended its pedestrian product category.

So now Google will, in theory, have access to all that potentially behavior-influencing data.

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