When Nest launched its first thermostat in 2011, its aim was for the device to learn the rhythm of a user's household so it could automate heating. Nearly five years, two hardware hardware updates and a Google acquisition later, a new software update is seeking to take the next step in automation, with family accounts and geofencing.
Individual users can be added or removed from a Family Account via the Nest app, so each person can access and control Nest products themselves using their own account. This eliminates the need for users to share the login details for a single master account, and opens up a new world of tracking for the Alphabet-owned Nest.
The new Home/Away Assist functionality, meanwhile, is set up to automatically identifying whether anyone is at home. It uses geofencing to track a user's phone and detect whether or not they are within a given distance of their home. Geofencing, however, is not necessarily completely accurate or practical, and can count a user as being at home when in fact they are a few houses away. It is also rendered redundant if a user's smartphone battery conks out and, if used by only one person, doesn't account for other people being at home while the user is elsewhere. In other words, little Jimmy might freeze his buns off while account-holder Dad is making a pizza run.
The Family Account functionality is one way of combating this, by allowing the Nest thermostat to track whether or not any family members are within the geofenced area. It combines this data with that from activity sensors in its devices, which help identify whether people are at home, and algorithms that learn the typical rhythm of a household.
Depending on how you look at it, this either adds up to the exciting smart-home of the future taking shape or the beginnings of a Big Brother-like privacy nightmare.
If it's any consolation for privacy advocates, Nest users must each opt in to Home/Away Assist in order to use the functionality. Location status is also only tracked in relation to the geofenced area, rather than the precise location, and all user information is encrypted.
The new functionalities are accessible via the updated Nest app for Android and iOS. The video below provides an overview of Family Accounts and Home/Away Assist.
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