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Coming soon to a fridge near you -- targeted ads

Jaikumar Vijayan | May 26, 2014
Google letter to SEC describes company's intent to deliver targeted ads to smart fridges, thermostats other devices.

Google "routinely integrates user data from the companies it acquires," Rotenberg said. "We believe that raises serious concerns and should be subject to careful FTC review as both a consumer privacy issue and an antitrust issue," he said.

The concerns came to a head recently when Google purchased smart thermostat maker Nest Labs for $3.2 billion, giving Google direct access to potentially millions of homes over the next few years.

While Nest assured customers that their data would be used by Google only for product improvement and support purposes, groups like EPIC urged the FTC to investigate how Google planned to use Nest customer data.

A Google spokesman, in an email, said the company is in touch with the SEC to clarify some of the language in its earlier filing. The comments in the filing do not reflect Google's product road map, the spokesman said. "Nest, which we acquired after this filing was made, does not have an ads-based model and has never had any such plans," he said.

Google also emailed a statement from Nest CEO Tony Fadell. "Nest is being run independently from the rest of Google, with a separate management team, brand and culture," the statement read. While Nest has a paid-for business model, Google's model is ad-supported.

"We have nothing against ads; after all Nest does lots of advertising," Fadell said. "We just don't think ads are right for the Nest user experience."

Similar concerns were raised when Facebook purchased WhatsApp. "Acting in reliance on WhatsApp representations, Internet users provided detailed personal information to the company, including private text to close friends," EPIC had noted in a brief with the FTC.

"The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users' understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice," the advocacy group had noted.

The same sort of concerns apply to Google and other companies that plan on leveraging data from the IoT to deliver targeted messaging, according to Rotenberg, who said, "Google should not be tracking what people are doing in their homes."

 

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