Google’s plan for the helpful home all goes back to privacy

The smart home landscape continues to evolve, and one of its biggest proponents is Google. In a span of just three years, we’ve seen significant leaps in the smart home thanks to the incredible power of Google Assistant — and innovations will continue to come.

Google, however, admits there have been some growing pains around the expansion of the smart home. Most of the recent challenges center around its transition from the Works with Nest program to Works with the Google Assistant. Not everyone was pleased by the decision, which resulted in a lot of device connections being severed until they were properly vetted to meet Google’s stricter requirements for privacy.

Instilling confidence

“We are building an ecosystem that is rooted in privacy and security,” Michele Turner, senior director of product management for Google’s Smart Home Ecosystem, told Digital Trends in a recent interview about the company’s revamped efforts to perform vendor security audits as it continues to move forward with its Works with the Google Assistant program. When it was announced earlier this year that Works with Nest was being phased out, a lot of Nest products were in danger of losing integration with other smart home platforms.

Since then, the process of getting them to be compatible with the Works with the Google Assistant program has been ongoing — with some of the audits taking substantially longer. That’s due to the complexity associated with how these security audits are auditing firmware on other devices to ensure they meet stricter data and privacy requirements — and it’s made more difficult in the case of older devices from some of Google’s bigger partners.

We are building an ecosystem that is rooted in privacy and security.

What does all of this mean? Frankly, it continues to be a work in progress, but one that Google seems to be committed to as a way to instill confidence that its smart home ecosystem is safe and secure. “In your home, your weakest link is the product that’s not secured, so we’re doing the best we can to ensure that the ecosystem we build has built-in security and privacy from the ground up,” Turner said.

While much of our conversation revolves around security and privacy, she brought up some insights about the direction of the smart home ecosystem.

Devices become more multifunctional

Nest Hub Max Home App
John Velasco/Digital Trends

For a long time, smart home gadgets were relegated to just their core functions — smart thermostats strictly controlled the temperature of your home and smart speakers gave us access to voice assistants. They’re good at what they were intended to do, but Turner believes that they should do much more.

This shouldn’t come as a shock, given that the recent Nest Hub Max is a perfect example of a shift toward being multifunctional. “If you look at a speaker in your home, or a Nest Hub Max, it should be able to function as more than just a speaker or just a display,” Turner said. In fact, She’s absolutely right, one of the best features about the smart display is that it also doubles as a Nest Cam — a feature that makes perfect sense for a gadget with a camera in it already.

This idea of having multifunctional gadgets around the home is intriguing, playing into Google’s revamped effort in the home security market with the announcement of its new Nest Aware program. Google’s smart speakers, for example, will be leveraged to help secure the home — much like how its various Nest cameras already do a good job of that.

It was recently announced that the Google Home Mini and Nest Mini smart speakers will be able to keep tabs on what’s happening when you’re away by monitoring sounds. By being able to discern the unique sound of a smoke detector alarm going off, or glass shattering, it’s a move that was almost unthinkable a few years back when smart speakers were just being widely introduced.

Going beyond predictable routines

You could say this move to offer multifunctional smart home devices is a long time coming, but there’s the matter of whether or not they’re actually becoming smarter. Yes, we can set routines to allow multiple devices to work cohesively with one another, but wouldn’t it be great if they could be more predictive?

“Our moniker is the helpful home, said Turner. “It’s making everything, the Internet of Things, all the things in your home work better and more efficiently for you. What we’re pushing for is this personalized predictive home.”

She presents an intriguing vision with what she refers to as “anomaly detection,” which presents itself as a more of a suitable alternative than, say, predictive suggestions. An example of predictive suggestion would be your smart assistant learning your routine of coming home at 6 p.m. and automatically playings the news of the day, instead of you having to ask. With anomaly detection, though, you’d get an alert in the event something out of the ordinary happens in the home, say, like lights turning on in the middle of the night while you’re away.

“You want that anomaly detection, and we can start doing those things that are very proactively useful and personal to your home, but we need to do it in a way where consumers opt in to that, where they understand what data we’re collecting to enable that,” Turner said. This, of course, goes back to what Google seems to be focusing on right now with smart homes. Turner goes on to say that users “need to be able to make the choice to give Google that data and give them that choice explicitly.”