Hackers try to protect Nest thermostat owners from Google's prying eyes
A security vulnerability might soon become a boon for privacy-minded consumers who don't want information collected by their Nest thermostat to be shared with the Google hive-mind. Forbes reports that a group of hackers plan to use a vulnerability they discovered to release a tool that will prevent Nest's thermostat from sending usage reports, which contain data about everything from a home's size to at-rest temperature settings, to the company.
The tool is a direct response to concerns about Google's increasing interest in entering the home to gather information about the physical world, in addition to its efforts to capture all of the data ferried around the Web. One of its creators tells Forbes that Nest's promises not to share information with Google is suspect, especially because thermostat owners don't have the ability to prevent those detailed usage reports from being sent without using tools like this.
Pando has been making a similar point since Google first acquired Nest for $3.2 billion earlier this year, and that weariness has only increased over the last several months. As I wrote when Google's interest (through its Nest division, of course) in Dropcam was first reported in May:
I shouldn’t have to explain why budding interest in security cameras from a company whose entire business model revolves around the systematic degradation of individual privacy is a bad thing, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. Google’s future depends on new and exciting ways to get advertisements in front of consumers. Serving those advertisements requires the collection of increasing amounts of information, which creates a never-ending cycle of data vacuuming.
It’s bad enough that this company is entrusted with the world’s largest mobile software platform, the premier search engine, and services on which many consumers rely, such as Gmail and Google Maps. Now it’s offering thermostats and might be getting into the home security business — in addition to creating self-driving cars and technologies that consumers will have tattooed on their arms or sitting in their stomachs. “Panopticon” doesn’t even come close to describing it. Pando's James Robinson made a similar point after Nest announced that its products would begin sharing information with other companies:
Nest had always protested loudly that it wasn’t sharing data with Google, but like any good company that had been giving 3.2 billion reasons to be compliant and sell its users out, it was always vague and never spoke in absolutes. At the Code Conference in May Tony Fadell said it had “no intention” of sharing data with Google. In January it had “no plans” to do it. It was always going to happen.
And now the company is beginning its data sharing journey with Google right as it begins to expand its scope and what it knows about its users. Last week ‘Nest Labs’ announced its purchase of Dropcam for $555 million. The idea that Nest had bought Dropcam totally separately, like a kid being given $20 to spend at the mall by its parents, was a bit laughable. It seemed designed to take out the anxiety that could be brought on by Google directly entering into the home surveillance business. Now this group of hackers is going to try to protect consumers from Google -- a funny idea no matter when it's said, but one made even funnier by the fact that Google announced yesterday that it has created a new group of security researchers meant to find security vulnerabilities and help fix them before hackers can exploit them. Forbes' report is like a funhouse version of Google's announcement from yesterday, which makes it a perfect summary of modern tech.