Google has access to a ton of our personal data. When they purchased Nest, they were potentially buying access to even more data about what goes on in our homes. Google has stated that they are operating Nest as a separate company and won’t be accessing the data that Nest gathers. The Wall Street Journal says otherwise, and some hackers and privacy activists weren’t happy with that news. Some of them went to work and created a tool that blocks Nest from gathering any of that data. If Nest can’t get the data, Google can’t see it. This would make some users more comfortable.
The Nest tool requires root access, something that Nest is not necessarily happy about. It works, though, and the hackers claim that it doesn’t interfere with the performance of the device at all. “Using this vulnerability, we can patch the Nest from sending that data to Nest servers. There was no performance impact whatsoever on the unit we tested this on,” they stated. All of the functions of the device operate as they need to, but Nest doesn’t get any data. Nest doesn’t offer the option to shut off data sharing out of the box. The only other way to stop sharing data with the company is to turn off Wi-Fi, which disables some of the key features that make the thermostat useful.
Nest understands that some users don’t want to share their data. One of Nest’s founders, Matt Rogers, says that security is of the utmost importance to them. They even undergo voluntary security audits, and Google is also helping to ensure data is secure. He also points out that Nest is using the data they gather to help improve the service and even help better the lives of people who don’t own a Nest device. “There’s a very small vocal minority who don’t want us to have that data. We give them a lot of value from that data. With our smoke detectors, we found that there’s way more carbon monoxide in homes that anyone realized. We can take that info to regulators. The biggest carbon monoxide survey that ever happened before was hundreds of homes; we have thousands.”
Connected devices in our homes are the next area that big data companies are targeting. Some, like Google and Nest, offer amazing services in exchange for the data we give them. You have to decide for yourself whether this is a trade you are willing to make. If not, developers and hackers may give you options to still use devices like the ones Nest provides without giving up your valuable data.