Perhaps you’ve heard that Google bought Nest this week for $3.2 Billion (USD). The move doesn’t seem that unusual for Google—the company has massive mysterious barges off both coasts of the United States, and recently acquired Boston Dynamics, a military-industrial robotics company. Since news of the purchase was made public, though, some have questioned why Apple didn’t buy it first, and many are concerned about the implications of Google owning Nest.
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In my opinion, those two things are related. The speculation about Apple is related to the fact that Tony Fardell, the founder of Nest, is an ex-Apple employee who helped develop the iPod, and that Apple has actively promoted the Nest thermostats in its Apple Store retail outlets. It seemed like a natural fit for Apple to use some of its giant mountain of cash to make Nest an Apple product.
Consider for a minute, though, the backlash that has occurred from many users over the news that Google bought Nest. Philip Michaels wrote on TechHive about his concerns over the privacy implications of Google having access to the data collected by Nest devices. He summed up with, “After all, it ultimately comes down to trust. I only like inviting guests into my home that I can trust. And Google hasn’t earned that trust, no matter what its vision for the automated home may be.”
I haven’t really grasped the value of the Nest smoke detectors yet, but I’ve heard great things about the Nest thermostat and I’ve had my eye on getting one for my house for some time. Now that Google owns Nest, I am less interested because I don’t trust Google.
Granted, the same information is being shared whether I share it with Nest, or Google, or Apple. I get that. The issue, though, is that Nest was just Nest and had a narrow scope of what it could do with that data, whereas Google knows everything about everything, and it can now combine data from Nest with the rest of its endless supply of data in shady and unanticipated ways.
Many people don’t mind sharing information with Google. For what it’s worth, the more information you’re willing to share with Google, the better and more valuable the services are that Google can provide. However, many people—some of whom already have Nest thermostats or smoke detectors installed in their homes—don’t trust Google and are concerned about sharing personal information with the tech giant.
I don’t mean to single Google out, though. The same would be true if Apple had acquired Nest. There would be just as many people who don’t trust Apple, and are averse to sharing personal information with the company.
To some extent, I think it boils down to whether you’re Team Google or Team Apple. Those who use Android smartphones and Google services won’t mind sharing more information with Google, and those with iPhones, and iTunes, and iCloud would rather trust their information with Apple. The issue is deeper than Android vs. iOS, though.
The reason it’s good that Apple didn’t buy Nest is because doing so would alienate the segment of the market that doesn’t trust Apple. The reason Google shouldn’t have bought Nest is that doing so has alienated the segment of the population that doesn’t trust Google. Either way, that lack of trust and the arbitrary choosing of sides detracts from what looks to be an awesome company with great products and a tremendous opportunity to define and drive a cutting edge technology niche.
There are a number of very cool gadgets and technologies hitting the market to help monitor, automate, and manage various aspects of our lives. The Internet of Things is upon us, and we’re going to see more and more connected devices, but privacy concerns could slow or halt the growth of these emerging technologies. It is better for the industry and for consumers if those devices remain independent from the Google vs. Apple, or Android vs. iOS battles, and outside the fray of privacy concerns.