The smart home holds so much promise, from energy saving to safety and security. It may well help the boomer generation age in place and finally solve the problem of missing socks as they learn to find their own partners.  Some of the most interesting smart home products come from Nest, which started with the thermostat that learns your habits and moved on to the smoke detector that Matt called a smoke detector with added smarts, less shrieking. A year ago Nest bought Dropcam, a company that produced a connected camera. This made a lot of people nervous at the time, and now that Nest has announced the relaunched Nest Cam, that nervousness has not gone away. 

This kid thinks no one is watching.

This kid thinks no one is watching. Wrong. (Photo: Nest)

The Nest Cam does some interesting things. It's a high-quality, wide-angle camera and microphone that you can set to use in different ways. You can program it to only record when it sees or hears movement, or only when programmed "activity areas" get busy — like the counter in front of that chocolate cake. If you sign up with a Nest Aware subscription, it will record and analyze what it sees and hears.

Nest Aware uses advanced algorithms to send more accurate motion and audio alerts. Motion sensing features like face detection and depth sensing help improve the activity alert accuracy. These improvements require a lot of computing power, much more than Nest Cam can deliver by itself. So we have to use powerful cloud servers to deliver this state of the art detection. This is why Nest Aware is a subscription service.
You can set the privacy settings, for example, so that it only starts recording when the thermostat tells it that nobody's home. You decide what to share, keep it private or make it a modern version of Jennycam, the Internet life-casting phenomenon of 20 years ago.

However, as with the concerns about the Google Photo service, all of this comes with a certain amount of blind trust that what goes into that camera stays private. Or that Google’s computers don’t go rogue and turn into HAL 9000.

I have rarely seen a smart home product launched to such negativity, with comments like this in the Guardian:

Orwell was wrong. We don’t need a totalitarian government to impose Big Brother style surveillance — we invite it into our daily lives freely and willingly, through apps and social media and Internet-enabled appliances.
There are many applications for smart cameras that would be useful. Years ago I had to spend hours trying to spot a bike thief, going over grainy videos — a 1080p camera in that parking garage that only went on when something moved would have been nice. The technology would also be useful to check that my old mom is not lying on the living room floor. It might actually talk to the Nest Thermostat and adjust the temperature according to the clothes you're wearing.

But if I don’t want my daughter licking the icing on the cake, I shouldn’t leave it in a place that will tempt her. Spying on her or anyone else crosses the creepiness boundary — some might consider it a moral boundary.

Google’s business is collecting data. I know their motto is “Don’t be evil,” and I don’t believe that they are. However I can’t help feeling that this steps over the line, putting too much information in one company’s hands. 

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.