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What the purchase of Nest by Google means to you

Search giant finds promise in the connected home

Published: January 15, 2014 12:45 AM
Photo: Aya Brackett

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Google is buying Nest Labs, a company that makes Internet-connected products for the home—combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarms and thermostats that take note of your schedule and preferences and fine-tune your home’s climate accordingly. So Google gets a company that makes smart devices for the home; Nest receives a reported $3.2 billion in cash. But what does it mean for consumers?
“Nest’s privacy policy, so far, has been pretty good, but it’s something that definitely should be watched since Google collects information about its users based on their behavior on the Internet and Nest collects information about users’ behavior in their homes,” Glenn Derene, lead electronics editor for Consumer Reports, said. “There’s no explicit reason to believe the data would be abused but it’s something that should definitely be watched.”
Ad Age reported that Google did not offer specific plans for Nest, but parsing the possibilities wasn’t hard, adding, “The company has built a $50-billion business based on gathering information from Internet-enabled services like search and e-mail that can then be packaged to sell and target ads.” Nest’s blog post on Monday assured readers that Nest will continue to be Nest and explained the acquisition this way: “Google will help us fully realize our vision of the conscious home and allow us to change the world faster than we ever could if we continued to go it alone. We’ve had great momentum, but this is a rocket ship.”

Consumer Reports is testing the Nest Protect Smoke +Carbon Monoxide alarm now and we’ll report our results soon. It has some promising features, including Heads-Up, an early-alert signal that’s supposed to light up and speak in a human voice to let you know where there's smoke or that your home’s CO levels are rising. And rather than stand on a chair to push the hush button or throw a towel at the alarm to silence it, the Nest Wave feature is designed to let you quiet the alarm by standing beneath it and waving your arm.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is one of 39 programmable thermostats in our Ratings and a top thermostat pick. The $250 thermostat is round and has a rim dial for making adjustments, a nod to the traditional thermostats common in many older homes. But everything else about it is entirely modern. Program it or it will program itself based on changes you make the first week, and from then on it keeps on tweaking. It’s connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi, so it automatically installs software updates made by the company. You can control the thermostat from your computer, tablet, or smart phone and set the Nest to send you e-mail alerts. That’s some rocket ship.

—Kimberly Janeway

Update: On April 3, Nest Labs halted sales of the Nest Protect smoke and CO detector and deactivated the hush feature, called the Nest Wave, over concerns that it could be unintentionally deactivated. Read our full report.

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