Google Wants Know What You Do When You’re Home


Google plans to buy home surveillance startup Dropcam through Nest Labs in a $555 million deal that gives the Internet giant even more tools to collect specific data on your habits at home.

Nest, the smart home appliance company Google purchased earlier this year, specializes in customizable home appliances such as a WiFi-based thermostat that learns a household’s habits and automatically adjusts to make rooms warmer or cooler based on who’s home. Paired with Nest’s other products, including a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm system, buying Dropcam could help Google corner the smart home market.

Dropcam livestreams video to mobile apps and sends alerts based on activity picked up by small cameras installed throughout the house. Users can also communicate with people inside their home through the app.

With Nest, Google can “take all the smarts of the smartphone and build them into everything else,” according to Wired. Dropcam also lets users keep tabs on who’s coming and going in their house, sending alerts every time the front door opens or closes, or if someone opened your jewelry box. Nest’s deal with Dropcam could be the first step to creating a home with built-in data collection abilities. Nest and Dropcam can learn, for instance, who moves to which rooms when they get home, whether they prefer reading in the kitchen or on the couch, that whoever comes home at 3 p.m. every day watches TV for 60 minutes in the living room, or that the family went away on vacation for a week.

This ability may raise privacy concerns. Google, which is known for blurring the line between user convenience and privacy, has already permeated everyday life, collecting data from its GMail, YouTube and Web browser services, as well as 75 percent of all smartphones market that run on Google’s Android platform. Google has faced several lawsuits including one for collecting millions of students’ emails and Web browser history for ads. A federal appeals court also found that Google violated privacy and wiretapping laws by sucking up massive amounts of personal information over open WiFi connections without permission, a decision the company has asked the Supreme Court to review.

After Google bought Nest, the company promised it would remain largely autonomous and make its own business decisions. Now, Nest is trying to quell privacy concerns, saying that the data its products collected is not automatically sent to Google without customers’ permission, and personal data would be used only to deliver and improve its products. If that were to change, the company said, only Nest and Dropcam customers who expressly opt-in will share information with Google. Additionally, neither company plans on running ads for the time being, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Still, these promises may change over time, as the data gathered by Nest and Dropcam will be extremely valuable. Dropcam has more video uploads per minute than YouTube, PC Magazine reported, and these videos are chock full of personal details. Tech companies, including Google, have become more interested in gathering data about everything from consumers’ lifestyle habits to personal conversations. That personal data gets at the core of what makes a person tick, and is typically used for ads or making products that customers are more likely to buy.