Google just removed the biggest obstacle to its real-world surveillance system's spread

By Nathaniel Mott , written on November 5, 2014

From The News Desk

Nest plans to offer its smart thermostat to Irish consumers for free when they sign up for a two-year contract with Electric Ireland. Nest chief executive Tony Fadell said at the Web Summit in Dublin that the deal could put his company's thermostats in up to 1.6 million homes, according to CNET, and claimed that similar deals would be announced for other countries in the future.

It makes sense for Nest to give away its thermostat. Most consumers are unlikely to spend $250 on an Internet-connected thermostat, but they might be willing to have one installed if one is offered for free whenever they sign a contract with a utilities company. (Though they might also do what Samsung's customers did when it offered free smartwatches and try to resell them online.)

This is a familiar tactic. It's probably how you purchased your smartphone: You signed on for a two-year contract with a wireless carrier, purchased a subsidized device, and paid it off as part of your inflated monthly payments. The only difference is that Nest is applying the model to something besides phones, and it's giving the devices away for free instead of cutting the price.

All of which means that Google has now removed the biggest obstacle standing between its real-world surveillance system and the people from whom it so desperately wants to gather its data.

Google is infamous for its ability to offer consumers products which are paid for not by their users but by the ads those users see. Its products are among the best in their categories, and when it's free to use them, there's little reason for consumers to pay for another service. Now Google is just applying that same logic to the real world -- and it will probably work out for it just as well.

Even I've grown sick of hearing this sentiment, but it's more relevant now than ever: If you aren't the one paying for a service, you are the product. That's true if you're buying a phone subsidized by carriers that use "perma-cookies" to track you across the Web, if you're using a service like Google Maps, or if you're receiving a smart thermostat from your utilities company.