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Google Nest and the eventual smart home – are we selling our souls? And at what price?

Posted by Norman Miglietta on 02/18/2014

With Google’s recent purchase of Nest Labs, a company with a small portfolio of smart home devices like thermostats and smoke detectors, many people are wondering if we’re all a little too eager to fork over such personal information with no guarantee of security. While the temperature of your thermostat doesn’t seem like something that needs to be protected, it’s the beginning of a slippery slope that could lead to more damaging information disclosures that we should be thinking about.

To step back a second, Nest has created a smart thermostat that is capable of learning when you’re home and when you’re not, how many unique individuals reside in your home and their temperature preferences so that the system can adjust temperature settings and energy usage based on those signifiers. Seems pretty harmless, right? It is, until Google collects all of that information and permanently hosts it in the cloud. But it’s just temperature settings you say? While that is true, it’s also information about your habits, like when you tend to be home and when you tend to be out of the house. That information, if procured by the wrong person, can be a blueprint for robberies and other activities, not to mention the fact that it’s just plain personal information.

Situations like the one above are just a precursor to the scenarios that we could have on our hands if smart home applications continue to advance without the proper precautions for safeguarding our information. Add in the fact that Google knows a great many other details about your daily existence, from where you work to how many contacts you have in your email account and there is a treasure trove from which to data mine and analyze for predictive advertising and marketing.  Does putting your trust for so much personal data into the hands of a single entity that is profit-driven make you nervous?  It certainly does me.  Google will amass on its servers enough data about who you are, who you live with, what you own, where you are and what your interests are to sell it or use it in ways you never intended.  From a security perspective it also becomes a “one stop shop” for hackers and scam artists. 

Take a related example of the smart fridge – who wouldn’t want a fridge that tells you in advance that your milk is spoiling or that you’re out of apples? While it certainly has its efficiency advantages, it could also lead to a slew of unwanted solicitations from the brands (or competing brands) that you stock your fridge with. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by advertisements, things could only get more highly personalized and more intrusive with the selling of such detailed personal information.

The fact that our cars will soon be communicating with our TVs which are communicating with our fridges which are communicating with our thermostats is inevitable. A connected reality is not too far off and these M2M devices and applications are truly working to simplify the world we live in; however, before we start taking suggestions from our TV to buy more butter for our popcorn, we should step back and make sure we are really ready for that type of connectivity and that appropriate precautions are being made to keep our personal information safe and secure.

By Stein Soelberg, Director of Marketing

Stein leads a team whose responsibility is to own the branding, advertising, customer engagement, loyalty, partnership and public relations initiatives designed to propel KORE into the 21st century. With over 15 years of technology marketing experience in the business to business software, Internet services and telecommunications industries, Stein brings a proven track record of launching successful MVNOs and building those brands into leaders.