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Google's Nest Buyout Raises Privacy Concerns

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Amidst growing worries of Google's virtual reach, Mountain View enters our homes by way of our thermostats and smoke detectors.

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If you were already worried about the scope of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) data mining, news of a recent buyout may have you ready to rip that glowing thermostat from your wall.

Surprising everyone who assumed Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) would've been the likeliest parent company for one co-founded by two former Apple engineers, Google announced it has purchased Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. In an official press release, Google confirmed that like Motorola, Nest will continue to operate with its own distinct brand identity which, in the latter's case, is headed by CEO and "father of the iPod" Tony Fadell.

Fadell explained to GigaOm's Om Malik why his company decided to take Google up on its acquisition offer.

"I was spending nearly 90% of my time on building the infrastructure of the company," Fadell said, "and I wasn't able to spend enough time and cycles on what I love doing: products and creating differentiated experiences for our customers. That is where my love is, and Google offered to let us focus on that, but with scale that will help bring our horizon closer to us, faster."

Barely four years old, Nest has already become a leading name in home automation thanks to its Nest Learning Thermostat and last year's Wi-Fi-enabled smoke detector called Nest Protect. Both devices are at the forefront of the burgeoning buzz phrase "Internet of Things," which refers to the growing number of common household devices and appliances that can be controlled remotely via the Web.

At face value, this buyout helps Google take that one giant leap it needed toward home automation, which it had hyped as a major project at its I/O Conference back in 2011 but has yet to make good on in terms of the products and services that were demoed. (See: Google Reveals the Future of Android.)

But there's also something disconcerting beneath the surface.

Privacy advocates -- already wary of Google's intentions given frequent accusations of privacy violations -- aren't keen on the idea of Google's involvement with devices that already monitor our behavior and presence. The Nest thermostat, for example, has a motion sensor which activates the screen and changes temperature settings when it registers a body walk past. Some are worried about what Google could potentially do with that and other information stored by Nest products.

In an attempt to quell those concerns, Nest founder and VP of Engineering Matt Rogers addressed questions about privacy on the company's official blog.
Will Nest and Google products work with each other?

Nest's product line obviously caught the attention of Google and I'm betting that there's a lot of cool stuff we could do together, but nothing to share today.

Will Nest customer data be shared with Google?

Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest's products and services. We've always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.

Even so, Google isn't immune to "tweaking" its earlier positions on privacy and using data from one app with another -- often with an option to opt out rather than opt in. Nest already has a wealth of user data gathered from those who own its devices. Considering how much Google values contextual clues from its apps in order to improve its services, it would be surprising if Google wasn't tempted to tap into that information for use with its other products.

See also:

Google's Nest Move: The Tech Giant Wants to Run Your Home Before Apple Does
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