What can be done with temperature data now that Google bought Nest? Should you care?
Now that Google has bought Nest, we had a interesting discussion at our lab on what can be done with this new found data about your home. To get to the meat of the question one of our lab minions boldly asked:
What can they do with my temperature info? Nothing? MAYBE predict when I’m not at my house? They can already do that with my phone and location tracking.
Well, let’s ponder that.
Let’s say that you live in a state like California, that struggles with brown-outs and an overtaxed electrical grid. The state government passes a law that says you can’t set your AC below 68 in the summer or your heat higher than 68 in the winter.
This seems reasonable, right? This law still allows private citizens to cool their house down to 68 degrees in the summer (but no cooler), and private citizens can heat up their house to 68 degrees (but no warmer) in the winter. And this is better than rolling brown-outs or blackouts or whatever, because the citizenry gets to keep its AC/Heat a little bit, instead of having to go without.
So here’s what happens. Your NEST thermostat reports your data to Google. The state government, having passed the new temperature limits, contracts with Google for your temperature data. If you set your AC below 68 in the summer, or above 68 in the winter, you get a letter in the mail fining you for violating the new temperature limit law.
Without the NEST thermostat reporting your data to Google, this law would be unenforceable. The state isn’t going to employ people to go house-to-house and check thermostat settings, that’s way too costly. And citizens can just turn down the thermostat before opening the door to let the inspector in, so it would be easy to circumvent. The NEST thermostat makes enforcement super easy, it’s like the speed cameras that certain municipalities have put up.
Maybe instead of a letter in the mail, every day that you violate the law, you get a robo-call on your telephone, warning you to adjust your thermostat. If you don’t adjust the thermostat by midnight of that day, you will get fined. This mechanism allows the state to fine you for every day that you keep the thermostat outside the legal limits. Boom! Instant revenue raiser and the politicians can argue that the law helps save the environment.
So we’ve got this law, and it is working beautifully – from the state’s perspective. Because people forget to adjust their thermostat. And people tend to ignore the robo-calls because robo-calls are commonly from bullshit companies nowadays (and young people are more likely to text than pick up the phone anyway). So the state is pulling in some great revenue via fines.
But now the state needs more revenue. And raising taxes is a very risky move for any politician. So instead of raising taxes by 3%, the politicians change the thermostat limits. Now you can’t set your AC below 69 in the summer, or above 67 in the winter.
The next year, the limits change to 70 in the summer, and 66 in the winter…
And so on.
And each year, more people get caught by the rule change and penalized. This pattern continues until the populace gets fed up with the whole thing and stops buying NEST thermostats. Problem solved, right?
Hell no. The populace may have stopped buying NEST thermostats (or similar “smart” thermostats) and started replacing smart thermostats with “dumb” thermostats, but the politicians are too addicted to that sweet sweet thermostat penalty money.
So the politicians pass a law that requires (1) any new thermostat sold in the state to have a reporting feature and (2) all current thermostats must be replaced by smart thermostats. To make #2 palatable to the populace, the politicians also issue vouchers which help off-set the replacement costs, and they run a PR campaign about how smart thermostats save the economy, the environment, and the children.
At the end of the day, everyone has a smart thermostat and the politicians get their revenue. The only thing lost? The freedom to spend your own money heating or cooling your house as you wish.
If your not convinced that will ever happen then we highly encourage you to pick up a Nest Thermostat and a Nest Smoke Alarm. Why buy both you ask? Well they talk to each other. So if the smoke alarm is tripped it tells the thermostat to turn off.
We want to hear your thoughts on the matter below.