The Internet of Shit has an ominous message for us all:

Now the same is happening with your every day gadgets, but in a slightly more sinister, under the surface way. Companies want to internet-connect your entire house in order to collect more data on you.

The opportunities are delicious for bloated internet companies: now a software company could know how warm your home is, what times of day are noisy, whether you have a pet, when you turn on your lights or if you listen to music while having sex.

Smart devices are sold as a way to improve your life — and in many ways, they do to an extent — but it also means those gadgets are incredible troves of data that could eventually turn into Software-as-a-Service money makers, just like Nespresso did to coffee.

The problem with the Internet of Things is that the hardware is only one aspect. The makers need to keep servers running to support them, keep APIs up to date, keep security up to date and, well, pay employees.

That, eventually, costs more than it does to actually sell you the device. Probably in less than the first twelve months of you using it. That’s not sustainable, and no Internet of Things company has found a better way yet.

If Nest wanted to increase profits it could sell your home’s environment data to advertisers. Too cold? Amazon ads for blankets. Too hot? A banner ad for an air conditioner. Too humid? Dehumidifiers up in your Facebook.

To be clear, that hasn’t happened yet but Nest already shares “anonymous” data with “partners” and Google just happens to be in the business of showing you ads for things. It’s something that will eventuate.

I find myself somewhat less spooked than IoS does about the prospect of such “partners.” My main problem with targeted ads is that the targeting is usually pretty bad. I buy a mattress, suddenly every ad on every site is trying to sell me a mattress. Hey, guys, I just bought one. But when it works, it works. I purchased a couple t-shirts the other day, but there were a couple in the same column that I couldn’t find. Until, that is, a targeted ad just popped up on an unrelated site. Cool!

It’s commonly argued that we should worry more about corporations accumulating data than the government, but it’s just not something I really see for the most part. Corporations are usually trying to figure out the best way to offer me a product at a price that I am willing to pay. I do worry a little bit about increased discriminatory pricing, wherein the listed price is quietly dependent on stuff I’ve purchased and how cost-savvy I am. That seems mostly like an issue that can be addressed independently, though, and I sort of expect the blowback to be worse than any gains they have that over the current system (which price-discriminates based on sales, coupons, etc).

In any event, I found IoS’s comments here odd:

Ten years ago, if you had told people they could make millions off a specific coffee machine that would only take one type of pods, made by the creator of the machine, they might have laughed at you — but then Nespresso came along and ate the world of drink-at-home coffee.

They might have laughed at you… unless they owned a printer. You know, where you pay a pretty decent price for the printer and then have paid for it again two-times over the next five times you replace your ink cartridge? Seriously, such proprietary expenses are pretty old hat. Corporations have been taken to court over it. When I found out about the coffee thing, I didn’t bat an eye. Why would I?

One of the subjects of the piece, Nest, isn’t even doing all that well yet:

A few years ago, Nest was widely viewed as one of Silicon Valley’s brightest stars. Founded by Tony Fadell, a key figure in Apple’s iPod team, Nest aimed to produce a line of user-friendly, connected home appliances. Given Fadell’s Apple background and Nest’s focus on hardware, many people wondered if Nest would become the new Apple.

The company’s first product, the Nest Learning Thermostat, got rave reviews when it was introduced in 2011. Nest added a smoke detector to its product line in 2013. Google was so impressed by the company that it paid $3.2 billion for it in 2014.

But since then, Nest has struggled. It acquired Dropcam in 2014 and rebranded Dropcam’s flagship security camera as the Nest Cam in 2015. Beyond that, Nest hasn’t introduced a single new hardware product, and it looks increasingly unlikely that it can justify that lofty acquisition price. That’s less because of specific problems with the company’s management than because the entire category of internet-connected home devices doesn’t seem that promising.


Category: Server Room

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

4 Responses to Post #12451

  1. fillyjonk says:

    Having had a “smart” thermostat (which I tried to keep ignorant: didn’t link it to wifi, for example) fail on me recently, I am leery of “one device to rule them all” which is what some people seem to be leaning toward.

    If your thermostat is also your smoke detector and your CO alarm and, I don’t know, picks up the weather-radio band, and that ONE device fails, you’re in the soup for a variety of emergencies until you replace it.

    I openly admit to being a bit of a Luddite but it seems the fewer circuits something has the less likely it is to fail. And I don’t need a fridge that will tell me I’m low on milk or the eggs are getting close to the expiration date. And I especially don’t want a fitness device that decides it should share the info with my health insurer or my employer or God knows who else.

    I also hate the “obsoleting” of devices. I don’t want to have to buy a new dvd player every year; that’s dumb. But that seems to be what a lot of the device makers want – to force us all to be early adopters and early replacers.

    • Michael Cain says:

      Having had a “smart” thermostat… fail on me recently…

      The weakness of Nest and similar smart devices will be longevity. The old electromechanical thermostats based on a bimetallic spring and a mercury switch were essentially indestructible — I’ve seen some that are 60 years old and still work fine. I had a chance to look at the guts of a programmable thermostat like the one currently running my furnace, and everything in it — the clunky little microcontroller, the custom LCD display, etc — were clearly designed with an eye for durability. When the Nest thermostats start falling over dead after 3-5 years, they will get replaced with something simpler and more rugged.

      I got the strangest e-mail from a friend last year. His seven-year old very expensive range had died. The diagnosis by the repair person was the computer board that controls everything. According to my friend, the repair person said something like, “Here’s the deal. The company stops making that board three years after the model is introduced. The inventory runs out five years after the model is introduced. Maybe we can find one on Ebay, maybe not. If not, then you have to replace the whole range. Changing brands won’t do you any good, because all the manufacturers do it.” My friend finished by asking me about the problems of setting up a company to reverse engineer the computer boards for those expense ranges…

      • fillyjonk says:

        1. The electronic thermostat that failed was an (unasked for by me) replacement for an “eyeball” thermostat that had probably been in the house for at least 30 years. (I had a new AC unit put in and the installer insisted on “giving” me the thermostat and changed it without really giving me a chance to consider).

        2. The mechanic my parents go to has made similar complaints to the range-brain about computerized components for cars. Also, sometimes when a car’s warning light malfunctions now, it can really be hard to turn it off. My parents have to “ignore” the low-tire-pressure light on one of their cars that is just constantly on and simply check the pressure every couple of weeks manually (as they did before the cars with that warning light).

        I am sure there’s a market for dead-simple, “brainless” household appliances. I don’t need a washing machine that thinks – **I** can think, thank you very much, and make whatever necessary decisions in re: water level and temperature.

        (I have not bought an appliance in about 10 years – here’s hoping for a long life for the ones I have – so I don’t know how easy it is to avoid the “internet of stuff” ones or not)

  2. Peter says:

    The Major Home Improvement Retailer where I work sells Nest devices. Or tries to, they don’t sell well at all.

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