Google and the Smart Home

Nest_Diamond_ThermostatGoogle made a bid for $2.3 billion to buy the smart home appliance maker Nest Labs. In case you have never heard of this start-up, you can see their website here. Nest Labs currently makes smart thermostats ad smoke detectors and has plans to make a lot of other smart home devices.

From a pure business perspective it makes sense for Google to get into the smart home business. After all, John Chambers of Cisco has projected the industry to be worth a cumulative $19 trillion dollars through 2020. That is a huge number and there is a lot of money to be made in making the devices that will be in people’s homes.

But Google is an information company more than a bricks and mortar company, so one must ask why they want to get into a business that sells household appliances? The answer is obvious in that devices that are part of the Internet of Things do not just perform functions around the house. They are connected devices, and an IoT thermostat does not just control your homes temperature, but it’s connected to the web so that you are able to communicate with your thermostat from anywhere. Looked at from that perspective every smart home appliance is also a data gathering portal.

Google already gathers more data about people than anybody else. To the extent you use Google products they know what you search for on the web. They know who you write emails to and what you say in them. They know what you do with your android smartphone including where you are 24/7. They know the games you play and what makes you laugh and cry. Google is the first step towards the big brother that George Orwell warned us about.

By getting into the IoT device business Google is going to multiply its data-gathering capabilities many fold. They probably don’t even know yet what they are going to do with all of this extra data, but they are certainly are going to be able to profile you even better than they do today. They will know how you move around your home or what temperature you keep your various rooms. They will know you are up with insomnia at 2:00 in the morning. As Nest Labs branches out into more devices they might know your blood pressure and body temperature and red blood cell count throughout the day.

All of this extra knowledge is going to allow Google to be better at their core business, which is selling data about you to advertisers. Google is going to be able to understand things about you that you may not even understand about yourself. They will be watching little details about people’s lives 24/7 and they will be able to profile you in amazingly accurate detail. They will often know what you want before you know it. What more could an advertiser want?

I read one article today that said that that the government should block this sale for antitrust purposes. But I have to be honest and I think that ship has already sailed. Google already knows an incredible amount about people. And Google doesn’t have to really buy an IoT device company to gather IoT data. They can certainly find other ways to get that data such as creating the software platform for others’ devices.

But this purchase gives them a giant laboratory to play around with to see just how useful such data might be. I must say, at least for now I am a lot less nervous about Google watching my smart thermostat than I would be if they were buying a firm that makes medical monitors. But there is no doubt that someday they will find a way to get that too.

I have read many experts who have said that people have already lost the privacy battle. Unless you are ready to move to a log cabin in Montana you are being monitored and profiled constantly today. And every year the large data gathering companies are going to know more and more about you. Some people aren’t bothered by this. I have very mixed feelings about this about this, but I might even come to like this if Google can tell me every day where I left the damned car keys.

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