Nest, the smart thermostat company that Google bought for $US3.2 billion last year, made a bunch of product announcements this week.
One of the company’s most interesting announcements was a new program called Nest Safety Rewards, in which the company plans to partner with insurance companies to give discounts to people who own Nest products.
People who participate will sign up to send their insurance company monthly data about whether their Nest fire alarm is turned on, its sensors are working, and if its Wi-fi connection is good. In exchange, they will get up to 5% off their premiums. So far, Nest has signed up two companies — Liberty Mutual and American Family.
At the company’s announcement, Nest CEO Tony Fadell made sure to stress that the aforementioned would be the only information that insurance companies received.
While it doesn’t sound like a huge amount of data to give away in exchange for a discount, it’s interesting to see such a program come from an executive who formerly worked at a very anti-data-sharing company. Before founding Nest, Fadell worked at Apple for nearly 10 years, even earning himself the colloquial title “Father of the iPod.”
But Google and Apple have very different ways of looking at how big companies should use people’s data. Apple CEO Tim Cook has taken multiple recent opportunities to call out Google and similar companies for collecting user information to target ads.
“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” Cook said in a recent speech. In an open letter on Apple’s website, Cook has also pointed out that “When an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.”
Since Nest’s acquisition, Fadell has also become the lead on Google Glass, and his perspective on data is less stringent than Cook’s.
The Wall Street Journal’s Alistair Barr asked Fadell which company’s philosophy on data he aligned with after this week’s Nest press conference.
“If you’re not sharing anything I think that’s wrong,” Fadell replied. “If you’re sharing everything, that’s wrong too. You have to strike a really good balance and you have to understand what the benefit is for the customer and you have to be transparent about it. And if they don’t want to opt in then you have to realise you’ve struck the wrong balance.”
While it remains to be seen how many people will opt into Nest Safety Rewards, it’s interesting to see how a former Apple employee views data sharing now that he’s moved to Google.