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Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Information Are You Sharing?

The Nest Learning Thermostat looks like a really cool device. I really like its overall design, and the technology behind it is pretty cool too. The amount of innovation in the less-than-sexy thermostat market has been pretty poor up until this point. Yes, yes. I really like the idea of the Nest. But there’s something that bothers me about it. Auto-Away.

The Nest has a feature called Auto-Away that automatically turns down the temperature in your house when it notices that no one is around. How does it do this you might ask?

Nest uses Nest Sense (an exclusive combination of sensors and algorithms) to notice when you’re away and when you come home.

Sounds pretty cool to me.

But consider too that the Nest also allows you to view the state of the thermostat and adjust its settings remotely via a website and mobile app. What would happen if their site was to be hacked? Or your phone stolen? Or your credentials compromised?

Someone without your knowledge would be able to tell if there’s anyone in the house right now. They’d also have access to your heating schedules which could be used to glean information about when you’re usually out of the house. As your house gets smarter, it needs to be extremely careful about to whom its giving details to.

If the information that Nest knows about your house was to fall into the hands of people with bad intent, they would know exactly when you’re not home. “When’s a good time to break into that house?” “I don’t know, check Nest.”

This problem isnt limited to just the Nest. Recently the power company has been installing Smart Meters – a new type of power meter that can wirelessly transmit information about power consumption. The data that it sends out includes how much power has been used, obviously, but also what times of day the power was used at, what sort of load, etc. These meters coupled with power line communications would enable your appliances to tell the power company that they’re in use, or allow the appliances to be shut off remotely.

I know I’m starting to sound like a crank, or one of those crazy people that march around outside of the power company’s offices. I don’t actually believe that we should stop progress because bad things could happen. The point I’m trying to make is that we, as a society, need to be diligent about what information we freely give out to others. So the question is: what information are you sharing?