updated 09:10 am EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
New API allows for tighter control, closer peripheral integration with Nest
After nine months gestation, the Nest smart thermostat programmer's API has been released to the public. The cross-platform tool will allow coders on any platform to develop communications and integration tools for the smart device, including bringing new features to it such as geofencing and advanced scheduling tools. Unmentioned in the API documentation is the fact that, contrary to previous statements, Google will collect data from the Nest thermostat and connect its own apps to the product.
While still claiming that "we're not becoming part of the greater Google machine," the new API will make Google and other developers aware of when a user is and is not home, what changes the thermostat has implemented based on what it has learned about user preferences, and could connect the information gained from the thermostat to other information gathered from Google's usual activities, such as tracking web usage and scanning email for keywords. The data gained about users would be shared with developers of other "smart home" devices in an effort to make Google's platform the default for home automation, though Rogers says that users will have to give permission for the data to be shared with partners. He did not clarify if a failure to "opt-in" would exclude Google from acquiring the collected data.
However, the greatly-expanded sharing -- particularly to Google itself directly, which already collects a great deal of data on users -- will likely be seen as a further betrayal by some customers. A number of Nest owners returned their kits or bought competing products following the news that Google had purchased the startup for $3.2 billion, assuming (correctly, as it turns out) that it was just a matter of time before Google would demand that Nest user info be turned over to the parent company.
Rogers does maintain that data collected by Nest in the setting up of Nest accounts -- such as names, email and home addresses -- will not be shared with "other companies." "We're not telling Google anything that it doesn't already know," he added, noting that Google already knows where people live, work and hang out based on the data it collects through users' smartphones using Google Now.
Rogers also said that any company linking to Nest data, including Google, will inform users of what data they are collecting and how they will use it. He also promised a way to un-link other devices or third-party companies from Nest with "one click" through the mobile app that controls the thermostat. Nest itself just recently acquired Dropcam, a home-monitoring webcam and cloud service, for $555 million in an all-cash deal -- which has raised concerns that it may allow Google access to live streaming video of the inside of users' homes.
In his blog post, Rogers emphasized the potential benefits of connecting smart home devices together. "Wouldn't it be cool if our homes could be more aware?" he wrote. "If they could learn from us? And help take care of us?" He offered a few examples, such as LIFX lightbulbs pulsing red when the recently-returned-to-market Nest Protect smoke alarm detects an emergency situation.
Likewise, the lightbulbs could learn from Nest's "Away" mode and automatically turn off and on lights in the house to make it appear as though someone is home. Car automation systems could send the Nest information on a user's expected time of arrival to allow time for the Nest to heat or cool the house to the desired temperature with more efficiency than a pre-set schedule.
"If you're signed up for Rush Hour Rewards with a participating energy provider, Nest can let [your Whirlpool smart appliances] know when an energy rush hour is about to happen, and your washer or dryer will delay the start of the cycle until the rush hour is over," Rogers wrote. "You end up earning extra rush hour rewards and using less energy when electricity is in high demand."
Home automation company Control4 was one of the first firms to sign up for the new Nest API. It will use the technology "to bring our customers and installers a level of integration that previously hasn't been available," said Senior Vice President of Products Eric Anderson. "For customers, the partnership means they'll be able to control their Nest thermostats through any Control4 interface such as a remote, touch screen or mobile app."