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Technology / AI and automation

How Google is redefining information privacy

In the week of Google’s $3.2bn buyout of Nest Labs, a maker of smart smoke alarms and thermostats, a leading analyst has suggested that government and third party entities will now gain more access to personal data.

The search engine company said yesterday the deal had officially closed on 7 February in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Google, which already had a 12% interest in the company, said it hopes to enhance its collection of smart products, while giving Nest Labs the opportunity to create more smart appliances and grow in other countries.

Sylvain Fabre, research director and analyst at analyst firm Gartner, told CBR that the acquisition signals a landmark moment for information privacy as Google competes for a presence in the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) market.

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IoT refers to smart devices including industrial machines, cars, appliances and mobile devices that communicate with each other, generating massive amounts of data.

"There are several concerns here, from the fact that soon most of our acts and decisions will be visible to third parties, when you’re at home and when you leave," he said.

"There is the risk of hacking and misuse of machines…and if Google or other providers hold some information, we now know that there is a definite possibility that government entities may also access and use that information."

He added: "We know they hold masses of data on users but they tell us that they try to hold on to the least amount possible – possibly a result of some of the backlash unleashed by the Wi-Fi sniffing that occurred with the Google street cars, which not only logged SSIDs for networks but also some details on traffic.

"Now Google will have access to additional pieces of context regarding people, for example when they tend to do certain things in the house… What is certain is that the very definition of privacy will be reinvented.

"Whether the pressures of big business wanting to monetise all this big data, combined with government surveillance in the name of security will be balanced by consumer pressure remains to be seen."

At Munich’s DLD Conference last month, Nest CEO Tony Fadell said that any data that it collected from users is used for improving its range of products.

"If there were ever any changes whatsoever, we would be sure to be transparent about it, number one, and number two for you to opt-in to it," he said.
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