After moving from the Seattle area to southern Utah last year, one of the key differences we noticed were the much larger fluctuations in temperature between morning and evenings. Seattle temperatures remain mostly moderate during the year, while temperatures here in Utah can swing from cold to quite warm during the day. I found myself constantly recalibrating our thermostat based on the weather. To help us manage our energy use, I purchased a Nest Learning Thermostat. Besides being able to adjust the Nest from a mobile phone, the main promise of Nest is its ability to learn your schedule and program itself. For example, if you head out of town each Saturday afternoon, Nest recognizes that you’re away and programs itself accordingly, saving energy and making adjustments just before you return home.
I haven’t owned my Nest long enough to say whether it lives up to the promises it makes, but I have enjoyed being able to adjust the thermostat from my phone without getting out of bed. I installed the Nest app on my spouse’s iPhone so she can do the same. I’ve decided against installing the app on any of the devices my children use because, frankly, I don’t know what security measure are in place. Nest works over WIFI so someone would need to capture the password I’ve set on my router, but the Nest app itself does not ask for a password after I’ve provided one during install. More companies are releasing devices for your home that can be controlled by smartphones or over the web. I’ve been considering adding an electronic deadbolt look to my home like those from Kevo, Gogi or August, but don’t know enough about how they manage security. Each company touts strong security, but often that layer of security is proprietary, so I’m left to take their word. All these devices work over Bluetooth which has seen its share of security issues. Home automation has been a buzzword for so many years now that it’s nearly become a joke, but it’s been replaced by the ever catchy, “internet of things” phrase that promises every device you own will have an IP address. That’s just vague enough to sound both exciting and dangerous.
Many of the companies involved in home automation are not household names. Those tech savvy folk who have been around for a while will surely remember the hype surround X10 devices. Many products were focused on motion sensing and light automation. They were cheap and fun, and gained a following among the DIY crowd and not much more. But that’s changing. Recently both Apple and Google have announced initiatives around home automation. At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference early this month, they announced HomeKit which will allow devices like iPhone and iPads to control home appliances such as lights, locks, and garage doors via apps and by voice using Siri. Google might be further along than Apple having purchased Nest in January for $3.2 billion. Google plans to integrate their services with both the Nest thermostat and smoke detector. Privacy advocates aren’t thrilled about this development, because the purchase now gives Google an even deeper entry into homes where it can gather detailed data about your habits, and possibly serve ads based on that behavior. As much as I enjoy my Nest, I’m going to wait for things to settle down. Currently, there are too many security and privacy issues surrounding these products. I have no doubt that automating mundane tasks around my home will save time and reduce hassle, (maybe they will even reduce energy costs!) but I want to be clear on what I’m giving up in order to gain those savings. I don’t give much thought of someone gaining access to my phone and turning up the heat full blast. But I do worry about someone gaining access to my home via a Bluetooth door lock. With both Google and Apple moving into this space, I’m confident these and other security issues will be reduced. Top photo credit: Wilgengebroed via Wikimedia