Your Thermostat and the Internet

Category: Gadgets

Google recently announced that it is spending $3.2 billion in cash on… thermostats. To many, their purchase of Nest Labs seems incongruent with their search engine and advertising business. What’s so special about these mundane appliances? And what in the world is Google going to do with them?

Google + Thermostat + Internet = ?

The search giant bought Nest Labs, which has been selling the Nest home thermostat since 2011 and recently added the Nest Smoke Alarm. Nest is in the business of reinventing “unloveable” things, the company says.

There are a lot of products that have not received much R&D attention in decades; in particular, they have not been “smartened” with Internet connections, sound and motion sensors, or any of the latest widgets. Nest does all of that. One result is the Nest Thermostat, which really is a pretty nifty device.

It is aware of you and everyone in your home, thanks to built-in sensors. It learns your habits and programs itself to anticipate your need for heating and air conditioning. It knows when there’s nobody home and turns down the energy-guzzling furnace or A/C unit. It knows when you go to bed and when you get up, and adjusts temperature controls accordingly. (So far, it doesn't seem to know if you've been bad or good. But maybe Google does, hmm…)
Nest Thermostat

The benefits of a Nest thermostat include up to 20% savings on energy bills. Plus, you don’t have to remember to turn the thermostat down at bedtime or before going out. You don’t have to learn how to program the thing; it programs itself in a few days.

If you’re coming home early and want the temperature adjusted off-schedule, just call your Nest thermostat on a smartphone and tell it when you’ll arrive. This luxurious convenience costs about $250.

The Nest Smoke Alarm doesn’t just chirp or shriek at you, it talks to you. A synthesized voice tells you whether there’s a little smoke (popcorn burning) or a lot (GET OUT NOW!). It tells you whether it’s warning about smoke or carbon monoxide or a low battery. It says interesting things, so people are more inclined to pay attention to it instead of pulling its batteries. It costs $129.

Why Is Google Interested in Thermostats?

Nest products are useful, and cool. But why is Google spending billions of dollars to buy Nest Labs? “We are excited to bring great experiences to more homes in more countries and fulfill their dreams!” said Google CEO Larry Page in the deal’s announcement. Somehow I don’t think that’s the real reason. If this thing could slice, dice, or cook a chicken to a perfect golden brown, walk the dog, and remind me that I need the oil changed, while keeping tabs on the temperature and air quality, THAT would be a great experience. But really, whose dream involves thermostats and smoke alarms?

See my related articles What is Google Up To? to learn about other recent Google acquisitions in artificial intelligence and robotics, and how Nest fits into the Internet of Things.

So what's the real reason? Google’s business is collecting data about you and using it to sell advertising. The more data Google collects, the more effective it becomes as an advertising medium, and the more money it can make. Every single product that Google offers has a tie-in to this overarching business purpose.

A thermostat that knows your daily schedule and its predictability, your preferred temperature ranges, how often you burn food, when you’ve set the house on fire, and is able to send that data to Google would be a valuable marketing tool. But Nest says they won't be sharing any of this data with Google, and stresses that their privacy policy "clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services."

Some pundits say that Google simply recognizes that Internet-connected appliances in the home represent a huge market in the not-so-distant future, and speculate that Google made this move to prevent Apple from acquiring Nest. Other, like me, say "We'll see."

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below.

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This article was posted by on 17 Feb 2014

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Most recent comments on "Your Thermostat and the Internet"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Brian S.
17 Feb 2014

Bob, are you somehow implying that Google may be Santa Claus in sheep's clothing?

Posted by:

Arnold Christensen
17 Feb 2014

Always thought the Nest thermostat was cool but never liked the price. I ran across a Honeywell thermostat that you can connect to from the internet. You can set the schedule of heating or cooling very simply. You register it with Honeywell and you can sit in Hong Kong and set the temp in the house. Works very well and keeps the temp right at what you set it at and there is no 2-3 degree fluctuation. Price was excellent at about the $100 mark at Home Depot. I will have to think about the smoke alarms not only talking to me but also the cost as we have 12 of them in the house and the cost will be a good percentage of my monthly retirement pay and if I am in Hong Kong and something goes wrong... by the time I get home I will be looking at embers, no matter how long it screams at me that it is getting hot in here Bub!

Posted by:

17 Feb 2014

I remember a month or two ago I read an article from's Erick Erickson, who said he had intended to buy just this particular type of thermostat for his Georgia home and learned that Google was buying the company. He changed his mind. I know that it would take a HUGE amount of time to recover (in savings) the additional cost of this 'smart' appliance. And I for one, despite having a gmail address, really don't want google to have all that much data on me. So in addition to the recovery period for the expense, there's that consideration which has ruled out any Nest-type products for this homeowner. Get a now-cheap less 'smart' automatic setback/programmable thermostat and be done with it! (I got mine on sale about 5 yrs ago for about $15, at Kmart...and it was a snap to install!)

Posted by:

17 Feb 2014

Many utility companies offer a FREE programmable thermostat. Savings are the same whether from a $250 Nest thermostat or a free one. The differnce: the built-in smoke detector. If it goes off when you are out, it can notify you. Otherwise, save the $250 for the Nest unit. Get the free one from your utility company and still save 20% on your utility bill.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2014

V-e-e-r-r-y interesting! The internet connection can be disabled, keeping your home habits away from Nest or Google, but also preventing your remote monitoring and control. Nothing is free. (And this cost is not all that bad; I paid almost as much for a Heathkit automatic thermostat back in the day.) We sacrifice too much privacy for convenience these days; it's too cool not to have your thermostat -and refrigerator- on the net.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2014

I don't trust GOOGLE for anything, any more than I trust the NSA.

They have been spying on U.S. Citizens ever since they started!

Posted by:

17 Feb 2014

Recently, I was in the market for a replacement thermostat as replacement for the decades old Honeywell unit on the wall. I looked at this Nest unit long and hard and decided that my place really did not need to be so connected and automated, especially for the price of entry.
Similarly, my mate suggested that maybe we should explore some sort of video surveillance of the premises and I also nixed that whole idea. It is getting harder and harder to not be so connected to the world around us. But I am one of those Luddite-types that does not even like WiFi and still refusing a smartphone ownership. But I feel the extreme pressure all around me to get connected, as everyone else is becoming. Even our local electric company is on this connectivity kick and they are equipping all the new electric meters with connectivity options that can log in your daily usage habits of electricity. Argh!
Like the Borg had once said "Resistance is futile, you shall be assimilated!" I dread that day!

Posted by:

17 Feb 2014

I have a relative who works for Nest Labs. They said Nest Lab employees are a little hurt by all the negative feedback about sharing users information. Their policy's protect users and the management is strong on keeping things as is. The person explaining the deal to employees was adamant about user data being sacrosanct but the Google person was pretty wishy-washy and non-committal about future plans. I think you are right about Google's plans for their users data.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2014

I had the same question, and your answer makes a lot of sense and is also troubling as the owner of a Nest thermostat. I was also disappointed that the management at Nest sold out for the big bucks. Oh well, money talks and...

Posted by:

Not Bill Gates
17 Feb 2014

$3.2 billion dollars for a company that sells fancy expensive auto-programmable thermostats and smoke detectors. I hope there's more technology there (and a better business model) than meets the eye.

Perhaps it's just an alternative advertising delivery system. Could they plan on giving Nest units away for free, in order to snoop on people and throw more advertisements at them? Or maybe just a gateway to the central (and only) character in Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" ... August 2026 isn't that far away ...

Posted by:

17 Feb 2014

So what's next? A "smart" toilet paper holder? Think of the possibilities. Someone, somewhere can learn how many times the toilet gets flushed (water conservation), how many times the bathroom light is turned on (energy conservation),target specific ads (toilet paper to incontinence products to laxatives), etc etc. Wow! I can hardly wait!!!

Posted by:

18 Feb 2014

Google makes me nervous. I wish they had not bought Nest Labs. I am on the verge of getting one, but knowing Google's rep for data gathering, I may not. Some things are just none of anyone's business, including my home habits. This need for personal data gathering by our government & other businesses is becoming more than irritating. I hope Nest Labs will only gather "product betterment" info, but with Google as the parent company, that could quickly change.

Posted by:

Paul Howell
18 Feb 2014

I live in San Diego County about twelve miles from the coast. It hasn't gotten below fifty four degrees in our not so well insulated house in the last four years. Forgot to close the sliding glass door when I went to bed in 2010. With a new Nest Thermostat We may see the rise of socks stocks on the DOW.

Posted by:

18 Feb 2014

"But Nest says they won't be sharing any of this data with Google"
But if Google owns them, how can they prevent it?

Posted by:

top squirrel
18 Feb 2014

"Your Thermostat or Your Life"
Only about 5 years ago there was a proposal that the state of California should monitor and control thermostat settings so as to save energy. Well, "Laugh today; suffer tomorrow." Stuff like this, seat belts, smoking restrictions on your own property -- You don't have to be too bright to see where this is going. In China they call this sort of thing "Death by a Thousand Cuts." There comes a point wherein you should be able to draw a line and say "Hey, I'm an adult and this is none of your business."
You may not be able to stop these trends but you can sure as hell refuse to purchase or use a "smart" thermostat. Sooner or later Google is going to give these away just so they can use the information they obtain about you to sell better- targeted advertising. I don't want to use any one that has an Internet connection. If forced to I will find out how to disable the connection and do it.
[Bob! Can you tell us how to do that?}
And, no, I don't own a smart phone. Or a smart car. I don't want to have to match wits with my toaster.

Posted by:

top squirrel
18 Feb 2014

"There Will Come Soft Rains."
One comment on the posting of "Not Bill Gates":
I read Ray Bradbury's "There will come soft rains" maybe 50 years ago and I still remember it. Their "house computer" controlled everything for their comfort: not only thermostat settings, but bath water temperature (and drew the bath come bedtime), and read you a story when you got under the blanket. A hot-rocks kid at the time, I wondered if a hand would come out just when you start to get into it, offering you some packages of Trojans, and a soft voice might say, "Did you forget to use these? And just a reminder: Your wife has just left work and, given current traffic patterns, will arrive in 36 minutes, so hurry up. Or would you prefer that I cause some mechanical problem to her car that may give you more time?" You can embroider this endlessly. The story ended when there was a malfunction and the electrical system of the house caused a major fire. The robot voice assured don't worry, it was fighting the fire and then, advised the family to leave the house and it was calling the Fire Department and later died completely. I don't recall if before signing off the computer then said something endearing like "So sorry, major failure, please call the company for a replacement unit under your lifetime warranty, and now, my lifetime warranty is about to expire and me along with it. It has been a pleasure. Have a nice glynixystreb!"

In the Bradbury story, however, the family is all dead when the story began and the evidence suggests everyone was burned to a crisp as a result of nuclear war. Neutron bombs would be lethal to people but leave structures untouched. (One kid's comment: "Hey, what a great bomb! It only kills the people!") Fears of that were big in the '50s. HAL was only a gleam in Bill Gates' eye.

Posted by:

Gar Suitor
18 Feb 2014

Let's review:

1. Google bought Nest for a trainload of money.

2. Nest would have us believe that Google will not do their very best to extract every nickle they can from this investment.

3. Right....

Posted by:

18 Feb 2014

makes sense for Google to buy this so as to have one more way to get back at apple, since the founders of nest were head honchos at McIntosh..

Posted by:

18 Feb 2014

Bob ... Informative article, as usual. WOW ... Google wanting to get into the "Smart" Business??? What you said about Nest and their products, sounded very interesting ... Until, Google was mentioned.

Now, I am coming from a completely different viewpoint. I am a Renter and I do NOT want the Owner or Property Management to know ANYTHING, about my activities or my utility usage is or what my usual "schedule" is!!! This scares me, to no end.

While, I am not pleased that Google is going into the Smart Business ... I still worry, that as a Renter, the Owner or Property Management just might install either a Nest System or another Smart Home System, for their own nefarious means. Sorry, that I sound so cynical ... But, after living 70 years and seeing a lot of BS come down the pipeline ... Cynicism and suspicion is what I feel, about things like this.

Yes, I do have a Smart Phone and love it ... Do I worry? Of course, that is why I have a good Anti-Virus Program that I pay for, annually. I chose to use avast! ... I use avast! for my home PC and knew that I would be "safe", using it on my Smart Phone.

I have an Android phone, which means it easily could be "hacked", so, I want to be as protected, as possible. Now, that doesn't mean I can't be "hacked", just that when you have good protection, the likelihood is not as strong.

Bob ... Thank you, once again! You have given me great pause, in this issue. My rental lease, will be up in April 2015 and should the owners try to increase the monthly rent ... I will be looking for another place to rent and definitely, will be looking for any Smart Home Devices in places, I might consider renting.

Posted by:

19 Feb 2014

"On the internet, no one knows you are a toaster!"
Caption from a website graphically discussing IoT

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