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Home Alone? Now Nest Can Tell

By Peter Suciu
Mar 10, 2016 12:52 PM PT

Nest on Thursday announced two new features, Family Accounts and Home/Away Assist.

Family Accounts would let up to 10 people access the Nest products in a connected home from their Android or iOS devices. That means an end to sharing logins and passwords, the company said. Users can be added or removed seamlessly from the Family Account, which can provide notifications to the entire family. Users also can get updates from Nest Protect, check in with the Nest Cam and receive a monthly report on product usage.

"Family Accounts allows everyone in the home to connect to the Nest app with their own Nest Account. The whole family can now control products, view live video streams from Nest Cam, receive notifications and get their own copy of the monthly home report," a Nest spokesperson said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by company rep Ivy Choi.

Home/Away Assist was designed to track the patterns of household members, utilizing learning algorithms and activity sensors that are built into products such as the Nest Learning Thermostat. The feature also works with a smartphone's location services to determine which, if any, users are at home.

"With Home/Away Assist, the company is getting even better at knowing when people are home or away, so Nest products can use the location of your phone in addition to built-in sensors and algorithms to do the right thing at the right time," the Nest spokesperson said.

Tracking Multiple Handsets

The features utilize sensor data, algorithms and location data from multiple handsets to help ensure that users will have the temperature just where they want it as they enter and exit certain areas of a house.

"There are plenty of benefits that this system offers, and it goes part and parcel with the smart connected home," said Susan Schreiner, principal analyst at C4 Trends.

"This is about more than just energy efficiency. It becomes a question of how this can fit into your lifestyle to make the home more comfortable, but it comes with some trade-offs," she told TechNewsWorld.

Privacy Concerns

One trade-off is the level of tracking and monitoring that Nest would need to utilize to make its system work. People who have privacy concerns may not be ready to have smart home devices track their movements inside and outside the home, according to Schreiner.

"For this system to really work you need to give away a certain level of privacy, so people are going to have to come to grips with their own definition and security," she said.

"There is going to be a trade-off between in-home functionality and privacy," said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

"Since information is reflected through servers -- cloud -- private data is going to the outside world," he told TechNewsWorld.

"Some people don't care, but even a small amount of metadata can tell you a lot about what's going on," Kay added.

Safety and Security

Security is another potential concern.

Home/Away Assist needs to know only whether you're home, and the information would be encrypted, Nest said.

If that personal data were to fall into the wrong hands, however, it could allow someone to monitor patterns and routines of family members.

"If you recall a couple of years ago, there were some warnings that people shouldn't advertise that they were traveling and that you should be discreet on social media when on vacation so as not to advertise that you aren't home," warned Schreiner.

"This isn't really the same, but it does suggest that there is a reason to consider how much you might want any system to track or monitor your movements," she said.

"Clearly what is happening isn't a one size fits all," Schreiner added. "Some may be more willing to adapt to the benefits of a smart home, but if you look at this closely, there are some creepy aspects to this new technology."

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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