Google seems determined to compete with the government in compiling methods of spying on the public. It already knows all the intimate details of what you search for online and how you use your smartphones and tablets via Android, and its recent acquisition of social-navigation system Waze will allow the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant to keep tabs on where you are going, what you are doing, and how you got there.
Chromecast can give the folks at Google a good picture of your entertainment viewing habits, too. Now, even more data about you could be streaming out of your homes and into the eager hands of Google, courtesy of an unlikely source: your thermostat.
Google announced earlier this week that it had purchased Nest Labs, maker of self-programming digital thermostats and other gadgets for the home, for $3.2 billion in cash, subject to closing conditions and regulatory approval.
Turning up the Heat
It's not the first foray beyond the computer and mobile Internet industry for Google's billionaire founders. The company is also investing heavily in wind power. But smart devices for the home are a growth industry, and it's not necessarily the sale of the hardware itself that holds the profit.
Smart devices are increasingly infiltrating homes, from entertainment systems that know your preferences to refrigerators that can keep track of groceries, and, washing machines that set themselves by sensing laundry items. Nest's devices allow you to use smartphones and tablets to enter settings that the devices will remember. In addition to the thermostat, Nest also makes a smart smoke alarm.
"[Google] tried to capture information about what people did in their homes by scanning Wi-Fi access points and got slapped by a variety of governments," technology analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group told us.
"But if they still want that information, what better way than to offer inexpensive security and home automation gear that also reports back [about people's] activity? This information is incredibly valuable to Google because they can then offer the gear at or below cost and still make a profit on the information they sell about what you really do real time."
What Brand Do You Smoke?
For example, Enderle pointed out, "They'll know what you smoke, when, and where, which could be invaluable to tobacco-related companies."
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Nest Labs was founded in 2010 by two former Apple Engineers.
In announcing the acquisition, Larry Page, CEO of Google, said: "Nest's founders, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, have built a tremendous team that we are excited to welcome into the Google family. They're already delivering amazing products you can buy right now -- thermostats that save energy and smoke/CO alarms that can help keep your family safe."
Google said Nest will continue to operate under the leadership of Fadell and "with its own distinct brand identity ."