Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nest in your net

Open the pod bay doors, HAL (Nest).

I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that ...

5 extremely creepy reasons 1.1 million Nest users need to re-read their privacy policy

Michael del Castillo
Upstart Business Journal Technology & Innovation Editor
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When Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion earlier this week, it bought its way into 1.1 million households whose owners were never consulted for the deal. Already, theSeattle Times has reported that influential users are returning the device out of privacy concerns, and Wired has called the sale “an annexation: an occupation of territory, the application of irresistible force.”
Instead of just sitting around and mourning the loss of privacy, we thought we’d take a look at the fine print of Nest’s actually policy. Five things in particular totally creeped us out and should give any current owners or future customers pause to think.

The NSA: Google has already been forced by the National Security Agency to share information it never would have otherwise wanted to share. Nest, which isn’t currently known as one of the PRISM companies forced to share information with the government, now is. “Your personal information may be subject to legal requirements, including lawful requirements to disclose personal information to government authorities,” according to the statement.
Who needs to ask your permission? Not Google: Nest pledges to ask permission before sharing your personally identifiable information with third parties for purposes other than to provide Nest’s core services. “We do not rent or sell our customer lists,” the policy emphatically declares. And yet, Google—a massive company that now deals in robots, artificial intelligence, vehicles, search, marketing, hot air balloon internet connections, images, social media, mobile phones, and quite frankly too many other industries to list—is no longer considered a third party. No renting or selling necessary.
Google knows if you wave your hand: The Nest Learning Thermostat knows if you’ve switched on a light or entered a room and “can adjust the setting to a preferred temperature." The Nest Protect system for detecting carbon monoxide can “sense whether something in the room is moving…and provide the ability to silence a nuisance alarm by waving your hand.” We can't help wonder what other gestures the technology could easily detect?
Two different versions: Based on the device you own, you may have a different privacy policy. Some information that the Thermostat collects, like handmade temperature adjustments, just isn’t applicable to the Protect. But other information, like “information input during setup,” which appears in both devices is actually quite different from device to device. For example, Thermostat owners will be asked to disclose whether or not the device is in their home or business, whereas Protect users will only be asked to share where in the building the device is placed.
Tony Fadell wants to expand: The founder of Nest isn’t content with just thermostats and carbon monoxide detectors. In November he told the New York Times, “Right now I can tell you 10 things, minimally, that can get changed in the house. They are all great markets with large incumbents who haven’t innovated in years.” What Google really got when they bought Nest was its own made-to-order division of the “Internet of Things,” with a privacy policy and all.
To be fair, I use Google every day—and I’d guess that at least once a day I give the company’s technology permission to reach into the depths of my online life for some benefit that I perceive to be greater than the cost of my privacy. It wasn’t always that way though. At the beginning I resisted, with images of George Orwell's 1984 swirling in my head, until having an online life at all became synonymous with giving up my privacy. Google has already proved my willingness do to so in the digital world and soon I'll likely have a chance to prove or disprove my willingness to do in the real world too. After all, who wants to come home to an unnecessarily cold apartment?

Michael del Castillo
Upstart Business Journal Technology & Innovation Editor
Michael earned his BA from Mercer University, along the way excavating a Roman bathhouse with the American School of Archaeology. Plus, he provided security at Oxford University, where he also studied literature and philosophy. He earned his MS from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism while training for and running in the New York marathon

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