Why we fear Google
Google buying Nest resulted in an outpouring of everything from disappointment to full-on fury, and all of it was completely human.
Companies are predators, like wolves or wildcats or snakes; it's their nature to bite, and we know that when we pick up their products and services. I don't mean that to sound overly dramatic. Just like when I riff on "any company sufficiently large is indistinguishable from evil", it's meant as a reminder mostly to myself. The bigger they are, the smaller the chance they can act in the best interests of all of their customers, all of the time. That means, inevitably, some of the time it'll be my best interests they're acting against. Some of the time it'll be my favorite app that gets gutted or pulled, my most important service that gets compromised or killed, my personal data that gets misused or abused. We know that, all of us, because we've all experienced it. It's why we get nervous when big companies move quickly or do anything unexpected. Most recently, it's why the internet projected collective angst when Google bought Nest.
It's human nature to fear what we don't understand and can't control. It's what's kept us alive for thousands of generations. We are, still, those tribal creatures, wary of what's different and new, of what shakes the world outside. Google is incredibly big, They move incredibly fast. They do an incredible amount of cutting edge things. They have, historically, repeatedly, leapt before they looked. That's scary. And that's why, whether it's Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, or any big company, we can love the products and services they provide, but we balance our love and trust with a healthy amount of skepticism... and fear.
That Nest has enjoyed a lot of goodwill, that Google's acquisition happened seemingly out of the blue, that there have been a string of some of our favorite startups going to, and often disappearing into, giant companies explains some of the initial reactions. When you look at Android @Home's failure to catch on, at Google TV, Nexus Q failing to set the world on fire, the combination of a great home automation brand like Nest, and a fantastic end-to-end product guy like Tony Fadell seems like a great fit for Google. It has the potential to solve a lot of their problems.
I'd love an iOS in the Home project
Apple, by contrast, already understands product. Apple isn't moving into thermostats or smoke detectors any time soon — even if I'd love an iOS in the Home project — and doesn't really have a place for Tony Fadell any more. Google, not Apple, needs a great product company/person. (Apple needs an equally great services company/person.)
Google wants to build the Star Trek computer, and to get to that, they're going to need to be able to access all data, everywhere. They're already getting weather, traffic, and other metrics outside the home. Now they're going inside. That's Google's dream. That's what they want to be. And to be it, they need to get all up into our stuff. Into our comfort zone. Into us. We know that when we pick up their products and services.
There are a lot of clichés that can be trotted out. "When they came for my location, I said nothing. When they came for my email, I said nothing. When they came for me, there was nothing left to say." "I sent you the Terminator. I sent you the Matrix. I sent you Tron. What in the hell are you doing here?" "And AC said, 'LET THERE BE LIGHT!' " There's nothing wrong with that. Cautionary tales are cautionary for a reason.
It's good to be wary. It's good to be afraid. (Just a little.)
It's good to be wary. It's good to be afraid. (Just a little.) That's what keeps us aware and keeps us safe. The scrutiny under which Google operates, however, is preferable to that of some small, relatively unknown company that could just start pulling our data without our permission — something that's already happened countless times in the app space.
I value my privacy. I'm deeply concerned about who collects my data and how they use it. But I'm no more concerned about Google owning Nest than I am Nest existing in the first place. If I don't want a data collector in my home, its not coming in regardless of who's name is on the box. And if I do want one, I want the best one possible.
It seems like the Nest acquisition was a great deal for all involved. And so were the many conversations and concerns it raised. Companies are predators. They see always and only to their own best interests. Whether we ultimately decide our fears are justified or misplaced, having those fears is what makes us human and, hopefully, keeps them in check.