Google, Nest, and the value of your home’s energy profile

Buried in this article on the Nest acquisition is this little gem:

Researchers in 2011 were even able to use a similar approach to determine what movie was being watched on a television set by making energy profiles of each film. This was achieved by observing that a television’s electricity load will vary over time depending on whether dark or light scenes are being displayed to the viewer.

Although the researchers in question relied on very granular data from the television set, Danezis worries that such techniques could one day offer smart-home companies an X-ray view of your home.

Here’s a link the research. Basically, they used an energy profile to determine what you were actually watching.

To me, that’s the real value of this Nest deal for Google. Google has so much to learn about you and your habits, and this is their first foray beyond the screen. The Nest thermostat learns about when you leave your home, when you are home for extended periods, etc. The name of this game is extrapolation. Are you suddenly home for extended periods? Does this mean you lost your job? Perhaps some nice help wanted ads on your refrigerator would be appropriate.

  • Meaux

    But smartphones, and Android has a much higher market penetration than Nest, can already figure this out using the GPS. Are at the same place most nights? That’s probably your home. The place you go to during weekdays? That’s probably your office. Have you stopped going to the office and are now staying at home? Exact same info, no need for a thermostat.

    • Meaux, you’re right about that personal surveillance device in our pockets, but I think Google (and companies like it) are looking to triangulate all possible data. Therefore, the more sources of data collection the better.

      Cars might be the next frontier. Luxury cars have cameras and sensors out the wazzoo. Trickle-down ensures that pretty soon every car manufactured will be able to sense where you are, see where you’re going and who you’re traveling with, what you’re listening to and talking about, etc. Strip club parking lots will soon be empty and walking will become a big part of maintaining an affair, right?

    • EVula

      Just musing off the top of my head, but someone could hypothetically determine if someone lives alone or not by correlating their phone’s activity (going out of town) with power consumption (goes down significantly if they live alone, goes down only slightly with some possible thermostat changes if they live with someone else). Some sensors in the car could provide additional data (road trip: car is with the phone. Lives alone: car stays in the driveway while the phone is away. Has a teenager or partner: phone is away, car is actively used.) Over time, this data could paint an even clearer picture and could help target ads all the more.

      I’m not getting too paranoid about Google’s intentions with Nest, I’m just musing about potential uses of sensor data.

      • Right. This is about the value of aggregating data sources. More is better (read: >data = >$).

    • there are millions upon millions of people who do not own Android, but do own Nest. thats a valid use case.

    • CJ

      You are aware that not everyone uses Android, right?

  • Remember when we loved Google (I mean l.o.v.e.d the company)?

    I wonder how long before companies and individuals realize en masse that they’re no longer comfortable with their activity on the web being scanned, email being scanned, their activities in their homes being scanned, the cameras and sensors in their automobile being scanned?

    On a personal level I know where I stand, but I’m torn between thinking the public at large will turn on Google eventually and thinking that the public will remain comfortable with the increasing levels of intrusion. What say you?

  • am i the only guy who programmed his Nest and disabled Learning Mode from day 1? doing so didnt defeat the purpose of the device for me — traditional thermos were a PITA to program while Nest is easy. but it was the online/iphone control of it that really made me see value in it….not the learning so much, especially since it’s stuck in a corner of the house.

  • I think Google searches or device activity is way more telling than the temp.