Ars Technica has some harrowing speculation about the Nest, and why Google is interested in it.
I wanted a Nest, but haven’t bought one because I have a Carrier Infinity furnace that’s incompatible with it. I love the concept. The Nest, if you haven’t heard of it, is a learning thermostat, rather than a programmable one. It figures out the temperature you like, figures out when you’re home and away, and lowers your bills when you’re away while making sure the temperature is comfortable when you’re home. This is better than a programmable thermostat, which can spend its life in permanent override–I know from experience.
Nest also offers smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, which also serve as extra motion sensors for the thermostat.
What I don’t like is the idea of insurance companies getting their hands on the data and then using it as an excuse to jack your homeowner’s insurance rates. Data can be misinterpreted. I’ve never set my house on fire, but trust me, in my early bachelor days, I set off my smoke detector a lot when I was learning how to cook. I don’t do that so often now, but on occasion, things happen.
I’m not willing to let my insurance company try to adjust my insurance rates based on data from my thermostat and smoke detectors. Those types of mistakes aren’t likely to be in my favor.
So, when you buy a learning thermostat, make sure you get clarification whether it actually transmits any data anywhere, and why. The last thing you want is for your savings on your electric bill to go straight to your insurance company. While I think the overwhelming majority of the concerns about Google’s data collection are overblown (and originate entirely from competitors Microsoft and Facebook, whose track records of abusing consumers are every bit as bad*), this is a big concern to me.
* Where to begin with Microsoft? Charging actual money for Vista and Windows 8 is a start. Increasing prices over time even though the cost of producing the software is going in the other direction is another. I like Microsoft a lot more today than I liked them in 1998, but Microsoft is no angel. But rather than attempt to compete with Google on merit or merely coexist with them, Microsoft hired Mark Penn, a former Democratic Party hit man who created smear campaigns for Bill and Hillary Clinton, to try those tactics in the tech arena. Penn has created anti-Google campaigns for both Microsoft and Facebook. Facebook, of course, reads your messages too–even the ones you never sent.