Jun 24 2014, 5:51am CDT | by Forbes
Late last week, news broke that Google Inc.’s Nest Labs would be buying upstart Dropcam in a $555M cash deal. For those unfamiliar with the companies, Google purchased Nest Labs earlier this year for approximately $3.2B. Nest currently builds intelligent home thermostats and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, but other home automation products are likely on the horizon.
To this point, Google has allowed Nest Labs to operate as its own brand and the company continues to grow at a steady clip. Dropcam is a provider of easy-to-use and configure Wi-Fi webcams and trackers, and cloud-based storage. Dropcam owners can check in on their connected cameras from virtually anywhere, and should the user choose, the video feed can be stored in Dropcam’s cloud (which leverages Amazon’s Web Services), and be viewed later.
I really dig Nest’s products and have used a number of video monitoring devices similar to Dropcam’s (though I haven’t tried an actual Dropcam just yet). The conveniences products like these offer are undeniable; being able to remotely control your home’s heating/cooling system and monitor video and audio feeds can not only save you money, but they offer a bit of peace of mind as well. On a recent vacation, I checked in on my webcams constantly to make sure my house and pets were OK and that our house/pet sitter was doing everything we asked. It was great.
But there’s a problem with all of this—at least in my opinion. Assuming the deal is approved and Google ultimately ends up owning Dropcam, Google will technically have access to a wealth of data about what goes on in our home. Think about this for a moment. If you own a PC and use Google for search (or use Chrome as your browser, GMAIL, etc.), and also own an Android-based device, a Nest product, and a Dropcam, the data collected by all of these pieces of technology can reveal virtually everything about you. Google would know what sites you visit and what you’ve searched for, where you are at any given time (assuming you’re carrying your smartphone), your contacts, Wi-Fi passwords, the temperature you like to keep in your house, and the list goes on and on. Heck, technically speaking, Google could theoretically even listen in on activities in your home, not to mention check out video feeds at will. If you’ve also got a few Dropcam Tabs installed, they even be able to tell when certain door and widows are opened, or where you’ve stashed something. That’s scary if you ask me. Really scary.
I’m fully aware of Google’s “do no evil” mantra, and could just be being paranoid about this whole situation, but something doesn’t sit right with me. I’m no technophobe and embrace technology every chance I get, but giving a single company as large, powerful, intelligent and aggressive as Google the means to see, hear, and track virtually every aspect of our lives gives me pause. I’m not saying Google would do anything nefarious with so many tentacles in our homes, but the possibility does exist. Even if it’s not the company itself, who knows what a shady character inside Google could do with access to all of that data.
I know much of the information Google would be able to mine can be acquired by other means, but that’s not the point. If you think technology companies already have access to too much of our data, imagine installing devices in your home that would allow them to check in and see or hear what we’re up to at any given time. When Microsoft announced the Xbox One and its updated Kinect sensor, people went nuts thinking that Microsoft would Microsoft could do with Kinect, especially if you factor in search, e-mail, your smartphone, and of course Nest and Dropcam devices.
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