News broke late in the afternoon yesterday that Google is acquiring the smart thermostat company Nest for $3.2 billion. It was a surprise buy in terms of the timing, though I think deep down I certainly expected that Nest would sell to a larger tech firm eventually. Shortly after the announcement, however, some Nest users were in uproar over the acquisition, some convincingly threatening to rip their Nest units off of the wall. I think some folks are overreacting. Just look at this 9to5Google story.
First, what difference is it that Google acquired Nest as opposed to another firm, like Apple for example? Here we all are, most of us enthusiasts in the gadget industry, drinking up the innovation around us. Yet, the second a real innovator is acquired by a larger company, perhaps one so big that some folks no longer trust it, we decide we no longer want the benefit of the technology in the face of privacy. The reactions, to me, seem a bit silly.
Here we all are, waiting with bated breath for the day when our homes are fully automated. When we can control the temperature from afar, when we can set the oven to cook our chicken on our way home from work, and when we can turn off the lights from another room. There are products that do this now, though I think we need some form of home automation standard to get it off the ground, to get us where we really want to go. And to do that, we need a cash heavy company that has the resources and the know-how to do so. There are few such companies, though I think Google, Apple, Samsung, LG, Microsoft and a few others are capable of doing so.
Of course, folks are worried specifically that it was Google that acquired Nest. It seems like a privacy issue, and as more data about the NSA's access to our personal information makes headlines almost daily, I understand where the arguments come from. But think of it this way: any of the companies I just listed already have sprawling access to our personal lives. Google knows our credit card data, search history, email information, chat conversations, has access to our photos, our stored documents and more. Google's already in our house, in our pockets, on our desks. Giving it access to a thermostat isn't going to make it more of a public enemy (if you consider it one in the first place). In either case, I don't think we have to worry. Nest said that its privacy policies won't change.
Apple has similar information, and you'd be kidding yourself if you think the others are more private. If we can trust Google, or any of those firms, with all of that information (and maybe we can't, though millions of us continue to do so) then, really, how big of a deal is it if Google has access to our thermostat?
Level with me for a minute. At the worst, I think, we're letting Google know what temperature we find to be the most comfortable in our houses. Considering everything else Google has, is this really the end of the world? Do we really need to rip out Nest thermostats off of the wall and, at the worst, sacrifice seeing where this project can go under its stewardship? No. In fact, I think this is an exciting time for all of us, and for Google and Nest.
Look – you trusted Nest in the first place. And now you suddenly are turning your back on an innovative company because its giving the reins to another firm that can take it to the next level? I want to see Nest go far beyond what it is now. And it will. I think with Google, we'll see an Android-powered version, and hopefully new products that bring home automation mainstream: not just for the few who want to tinker with a new smart toy.
Sometimes it feels good, even a little rebellious to fight back against the big guys. When the big guys can really make a difference, however, we need to look at the big picture, the future of the technology that we're all here to celebrate. That's why I'm excited for the Nest acquisition, and I think we all should be. And if this worries you, then what do you really think about smart cars, the smart grid, smart TVs and other innovations that are bound to change how we live in the coming years?
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