Google’s Purchase of Nest Likely to Raise Privacy Questions in D.C.

An advance into the 'Internet of things'

Washington may have been in learning mode when it comes to the so-called Internet of Things and privacy issues. Even at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, most regulators said they were in an information-gathering mode.

But Google's $3.2 billion purchase of Nest may reinvigorate policy advocates and privacy hawks in Congress who are skeptical of the search giant's consumer privacy practices and worry about the firm potentially having access to consumer data that encompasses nearly every aspect of an individual's life.

Perhaps anticipating the renewed debate, Nest tried to cut off Washington's concerns in a blog post Q&A.

"Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest's products and services. We've always taken privacy seriously and this will not change," wrote Nest's founder and vp of engineering Matt Rogers.

But the post didn't rule out that things might change in the future. "Nest's product line obviously caught the attention of Google and I'm betting that there's a lot of cool stuff we could do together, but nothing to share today," Rogers wrote.

What "cool stuff?" That's the future that will put Washington privacy policymakers on alert. The expert agency on privacy issues, the Federal Trade Commission, already has the Internet of Things and Google—which is under a consent decree for its privacy practices—on its radar.

It's not hard to see where Google, already dominating search on computers, smart phones and laptops, and developing Google Glass and Google Car, is taking its latest acquisition. With Nest, it's branching off into the emerging Internet-connected home, all of which could bring a treasure trove of data about consumer behavior. Does anyone believe that Google, which currently connects data across all its products and services, won’t want to do the same with the connected home?

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