From lead to gold: Google wants to display advertisements on thermostats, dashboards, and refrigerators
Google is known for two things: gathering as much information as possible, and using that information to serve better advertisements. It’s a modern alchemist turning data into dollars, so it will always be searching for more information and new ways to transform it into proverbial gold.
This means it’s not enough for Google to present advertisements on smartphones, tablets, and computers. It also needs to show them everywhere else consumers direct their attention, like thermostats, refrigerators, dashboards, and other devices — a fact the company confirmed in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission meant to convince the agency that it shouldn’t have to disclose mobile revenues.
The company has already taken steps to make those thermostat-and dashboard-presented ads a reality. It acquired Nest, the smart thermostat and smoke detector company, for $3.2 billion in January. Similarly, it’s been working to get Android into vehicles by partnering with manufacturers. An alchemist is always looking for new formulas, and Google has found some in these devices, despite its claims that it doesn’t intend to bring advertisements to Nest.
It’s strange to think of an advertisement shown on a thermostat being effective. Most people turn to their thermostats for a few seconds a day at max, hoping either to get comfortable or save money — they don’t stare at them and hope that they will offer a 5 percent discount at a local restaurant. Dashboards might fare better, since it would put digital billboards in the same place actual billboards are usually seen, but it’s hard to imagine many new Internet-connected devices proving useful as advertising tools. (And it’s unclear how those ads will affect drivers, though that’ll be a moot point when Google’s driverless car hits the streets.)
Google knows this. It also knows that any alchemist worth his weight in lead doesn’t allow anything to stand between him and his gold. So it has created a system where many devices don’t just display advertisements; they also provide the information that determines the ads shown across its network, too. These devices are the lead, the reagent, and the gold, all in one.
Consider the way Google uses information gathered from its search engine. It doesn’t just show random advertisements, it uses data related to those searches (the lead) and combines them with other data it has gathered elsewhere (the reagent) to display an advertisement on its results page (the gold). This principle is also applied to many of Google’s other products: all are used to gather information; most display advertisements based on that data; and many do both.
This means that if Google is planning to bring advertisements to refrigerators and dashboards and thermostats it’s probably going to use those same products to gather more information, despite promises to keep data gathered by Nest’s products separate from Google as a whole. (Remember how well that promise worked when Facebook acquired the Moves fitness app in May.)
As we’ve learned time and again, after a startup is brought into Google’s or Facebook’s fold, all promises are meaningless. Best to know the messenger than to fall victim to misdirection.