ACM - Computers in Entertainment

Google Acquires Nest, Creates Privacy Scare

By Alex Hillsberg

Each time Google does something remotely related to personal data, flames of protest and thousands of wailing voices flood the Internet. Case in point, Google’s acquisition of Nest, a startup fueled by the creative minds of Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, former heads of the iPod and iPhone teams at Apple.

Nest has only released two products so far: a thermostat and a smoke detector. Both have received positive reviews from enthusiasts and consumers. They’re smart devices that actually learn your preferences and can be operated and maintained without frills.

They’re also sleek devices that look as good as they function. Surely, these two products aren’t worth the $3.2 billion Google reportedly paid to acquire Nest? No one’s blaming Nest, which probably wants to avoid the sorry fate of Groupon when it rejected a $6 billion offer from Google. All the fingers are pointing at Google, as it muscles in on the perhaps the most lucrative market of them all—IoT, or The Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is a world wherein objects (sometimes embedded in animals or people) have the ability to automatically transfer data over a network without requiring human intervention or interaction. IoT is made possible by the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.

Nest devices can be controlled wirelessly by and also transmit data to devices such as smartphones and computers. There’s even talk about Nest Protect, the smoke detector and alarm, having Wi-Fi hotspot capability in the future. So there you have it, data. In this case, very personal data. Information that is related to what time you leave the house or how often you’re away  Data that often tiems generally harmless, but potentially dangerous in the wrong hands.

Obviously, data is in Google’s DNA. It’s the lifeblood of the company.

Google and Your Data

The most common data privacy issue, and perhaps most ignored because it happens so often, is the slew of permissions being asked of the smartphone user every time software is installed or updated running Google’s Android operating system.

Then there’s the big issue concerning the now ubiquitous Google Drive (previously Google Docs). Vaguely worded language in the consolidated terms of service is interpreted by some as a blanket authority for Google to do practically anything it wants with the data that you store in Google Drive.

Perhaps the biggest privacy scare generated by Google is in its most awaited product, Google Glass. Worn like ordinary eyeglasses, it can shoot video, take pictures, and broadcast what you're seeing to the world. The implications of this are scary, indeed.

Anything Google does these days scares people, including its acquisition of military robot maker Boston Dynamics. The robots Boston Dynamics makes are based on animal physiology. They can run, jump, balance and even chase stuff. But why, people ask, would Google be interested in that?

Google recently unveiled one more addition to the Internet of Things, this time in the form contact lens designed for diabetics. It will analyze tears for glucose levels and transmit the data to an appropriate device that will warn the wearer if glucose levels are approaching dangerous levels.

Don’t Be Evil

Online, the reaction to Google’s recent actions invariably funnels to the conclusion—Google is evil. This is the exact opposite of the company’s old motto: Don’t be evil. Most criticisms of Google make a reference to this slogan, short of accusing the company of lying through its teeth.

Google’s appetite for data is legendary. Perhaps Google will never shake off the blame for handing data over to the NSA. Perhaps this fear of Big Brother looking over your shoulder is too disconcerting. Yet expecting the company to behave otherwise is like asking a child not to steal cookies from the cookie jar. Children will be children. Google will be Google. What to do then?

Are you willing to make the supreme sacrifice and disconnect from the global data stream to protect your privacy? Or will you stay on it to make sure you’re in on the fight when it happens?