Nest Thermostat Goes From 'Internet Of Things' Darling To Cautionary Tale

from the benefit-of-dumb-devices dept

Back when the Nest thermostat was announced in 2011, it was met with waves of gushing adoration from an utterly uncritical technology press. Much of that gushing was certainly warranted; Nest was founded by Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, both former Apple engineers, who indisputably designed an absolutely gorgeous device after decades of treating the thermostat as an afterthought. But the company also leaned heavily on the same media acupressure techniques Apple historically relies on to generate a sound wall of hype potentially untethered from real life.

Courtesy of marketing and design, Nest slowly but surely became the poster child for the connected home. Over the last year or so however things have changed, and while now Alphabet-owned Nest remains an internet of things darling, the unintended timbre of the message being sent is decidedly different. For example, Nick Bilton recently wrote a piece in the New York Times noting how a glitch in the second generation of the supposedly "smart" product drained the device battery, resulting in numerous customers being unable to heat their homes just as a cold snap hit the country:
"The Nest Learning Thermostat is dead to me, literally. Last week, my once-beloved “smart” thermostat suffered from a mysterious software bug that drained its battery and sent our home into a chill in the middle of the night. Although I had set the thermostat to 70 degrees overnight, my wife and I were woken by a crying baby at 4 a.m. The thermometer in his room read 64 degrees, and the Nest was off."
Again, that's the poster child of the so-called "smart" device revolution failing utterly to complete a task thermostats have been successfully accomplishing for a generation. Other tech reporters like Stacey Higginbotham reported the exact opposite. As in, her Nest device began trying to cook her family in the middle of the night, something Nest first tried to blame on her smart garage door opener, then tried to blame on her Jawbone fitness tracker (Nest never did seem to pinpoint the cause). Her report suggests that an overall culture of "arrogance" at Nest shockingly isn't helping pinpoint and resolve bugs:
"One Nest partner, who declined to be named to preserve his business relationship with the company, said that Nest being quick with the blame didn’t surprise him, citing a culture of arrogance at the company. When something went wrong during integration testing between his device and Nest’s, problems were first blamed on his servers and team."
And fast-forward to last week, when researchers putting various internet of thing devices through tests found that the Nest thermostat was one of many IOT devices happily leaking subscriber location data in cleartext (with Nest, it's only the zip code, something the company quickly fixed in a patch). Granted Nest's not alone in being an inadvertent advertisement for a product's "dumb" alternatives. In 2016, smart tea kettles, refrigerators, televisions and automobiles are all busy leaking your private information and exposing you to malicious intrusion (or worse).

It's a fascinating, in-progress lesson about how our lust for the sexy ideal of the connected home appears to be taking a brief pit stop in reality, where sexy doesn't matter if the underlying product, person or device remains inherently dysfunctional. As a result, dumb and ugly technology is poised to make a dramatic comeback.

Filed Under: internet of things, iot, nest, reliability, security
Companies: alphabet, nest


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  1. identicon
    JBDragon, 27 Jan 2016 @ 12:39pm

    Re: It's about critical life functions

    I just had to replace my Hot Water Heater. Guess what It has the Smart Wifi thing for it. To me it's almost pointless. I just don't see a need to adjust the temp on my phone. Plus Vacation Mode? It's my house. Not my Summer home which I leave in the winter. It's also not hard to walk into the garage and turn the dial down anyway IF I had to.

    It does have a water leak sensor and it'll inform me of any alarm issues. It's a 12 year warranty tank, so maybe around that time when I may start getting issues, maybe the App on my phone is still working, and the Wifi on the tank is still working and it just all happens to work, 8-12+ years from now!!!

    To me for the most part is pointless. It of course has to plug into POWER. That's a first for me, Not because of the Wifi part which is optional, but because it has a electric powered Damper on the vent that opens when it's being heated and closed when it's not. It's a special one for where I live in California. Also more expensive, but at least it was one I could get the $200 rebate on before the end of the year. It's Low NOX or something also.

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