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Google's Nest is disabling some of its customers' old smart-home devices (businessinsider.com)
428 points by msh on Apr 4, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 311 comments

This is neither the first time Google's done something like this to customers, nor the first time Tony Fadell has been directly involved. When they pulled Google Glass from the market, it was concurrent with moving the Glass team to Fadell's leadership. They didn't go quite so far as to push an update to brick devices, but they left the software in a broken state, and refused to open source their fork of Android so users could fix it themselves. Nest has also burned a lot of Google's goodwill with badly designed smoke detectors (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpsMkLaEiOY) and thermostats (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/fashion/nest-thermostat-gl...).

And then there's this, on a recent HN thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11105510

> "I still wake up with something like PTSD occasionally from getting yelled at and bullied by Tony Fadell almost literally every day while I was there."

> "Tony literally stood up at an all-hands after the Alphabet thing and said "Fuck being Googley" (direct quote)."

I think Google/Alphabet need to take a serious look at what Nest has been doing to their brand. A few thousand very-pissed-off people here and a few thousand very-pissed-off people there add up to a serious liability for a company like Google.

I know almost nothing about the inner workings of Google or the Nest team, and yet I regularly hear about Tony and what a piece of work he is.

If someone like myself, only casually acquainted with the organization, hears so many bad things about Tony, how does he still have a job? Forget his apparent management incompetence, at this point it's just bad PR for Google.

Larry tends to be very loyal to his lieutenants. I'd say this is a combination of 1.) his personality type 2.) that you have to be, in order to get people to work for you when it's clear that you aren't going to step aside any time soon and 3.) his long-term orientation, where he's willing to endure a lot of temporary hiccups with the faith that people will eventually get the job done.

All of these are positive character traits, but they also mean that some...well...sociopathic individuals have managed to gain his trust and hold it for long periods of time, doing significant damage to the organization in the process. In the past, he has eventually fixed things, it just took years.

It's hard to say that this is wrong, per se, since the alternative is often a slash-and-burn CEO that axes executives at the first sign of trouble in their divisions. You can't do anything long-term under those conditions either.

What do you mean about his personality type?

I'm a fan of Meyers-Briggs, so through that lens, I'd peg Larry as an INTJ, and INTJs tend to be very loyal to people close to them at the expense of not getting close to very many people. Tertiary Fi and all that.

Through the non-MBTI lens, just that he tends to be long-term oriented, inwardly-focused, and prefers to invest in long-term relationships with a few trusted people rather than gregariously flirt with many. He wanted all of his executives to pledge to commit to Google for 10 years when he became CEO in 2011 (ironically, most of them have left by now).

>how does he still have a job

Certain people are gifted with the ability to "kiss up and kick down" their team, i.e., kiss up to those they need to impress, and for anyone else that is less valuable, "kick them" or treat them with less regard.

Here is a good Wikipedia article, with several case studies: John Bolton, Robert McNamara. Maybe someone can add his name to this list:


This. Spot on. Not just for Tony, but for everyone who is admired at Nest. First-line managers (not all, only the ones that the company celebrates and adores) especially - making life difficult for poor individual contributors (micromanagement, zero positive feedback or encouragement, tons of critical feedback), all the while sucking up to the middle managers who think their lieutenants are the best thing since sliced bread.


Yes, normally a "gift" that keeps giving, even after that person leaves the company entirely.

> If someone like myself, only casually acquainted with the organization, hears so many bad things about Tony, how does he still have a job?

Vivek "Vic" Gundotra did serious damage to Google's corporate image and was seriously reviled within Google, yet he stuck around for years. It's possible that Google upper management thinks that Fadell might be able to pull off a bet-the-company move. Gundotra was tasked with the same thing.

Or, it's possible that Google was contractually obligated to keep Gundotra around for a period of time, and is under the same obligation with Fadell. shrug

> Or, it's possible that Google was contractually obligated to keep Gundotra around for a period of time, and is under the same obligation with Fadell.

I can't believe that they would have so much negotiating power that there's no way out for Google. Even if it's moving them to be the VP of janitor closets.

At this level, there are a few issues:

1. potential reputation and organisational damage that such a person can bring to an organisation without carefully managing the situation;

2. in a company as big as Google (and frankly, one that is doing as well as Google!) it may take quite a lot of time to truly uncover the damage that a person is doing to an organisation, especially if that person is on good terms with upper management;

3. At a high enough level of management in a big enough company, lawyers and professional negotiators can wangle some amazingly good terms into the manager's contract. This can make it exceptionally tricky to remove this person quickly, or even move them sideways (if you move someone sideways, then you change their authority on a variety of things, which almost certainly changes their job description and thus their contract. This goes double if you demote them, even for the same money).

I can't speak for anything going on at Google of course, but I guess I can speculate that it might have been a combination of all three of these things. Which is utter speculation, so feel free to duly assign it the value that you feel it is worth :-)

> how does he still have a job

There is a lag between management incompetence and revenue.

Often these people are very personable when they want to be. They use this trait to manage up but only those below them, and without the power to make changes, see the real person. This is why and exectutive team needs to be themself spending time at the working level or have eyes/ears there.

That honestly sounds like psychopathic behaviour...

From https://daringfireball.net/misc/2016/03/the-information-tony... : "Mr. Duffy never got a reply from Mr. Page, but the representative eventually told Mr. Duffy that Mr. Page had considered the offer but declined"

In fairness, asking the CEO of the company if they'll fire someone and let you replace someone two managerial steps above yourself is rarely if ever going to work. ;)

Its worth a shot. Especially when you already have your check for your stock for the company you sold. :)

Sundar Pichai still has a job.

I'm curious about what you might have heard too. I have only met Sundar briefly, but I've seen him speak a lot. He honestly seems like one of the nicest guys I've met - and from what I've heard, most people seem to agree.

What have you heard about Pichai?

Curious about this too... most "tech industry" news I've read of him is full of fawning admiration.

Google is incredibly good at their "PR releases disguised as interviews". Google senior employee puff pieces are pretty amazing. While such interviews aren't "paid" persay, you only get such interviews (and the clicks/ad-views they bring) if you portray those people in a positive light.

Though if you scrape them for minor bits, you find some minor hints. For example, one of those fawning admiration posts about him, two years ago, mentioned that he killed the Android laptop project, because it was competing with his own project, Chromebooks.

I recently heard the 'tack Android apps onto Chrome OS' strategy described as a "trainwreck" by a Google employee, and that ship has now been righted: Android is working on multi-window views in Android 6.x, and it's looking like Android is once again looking at a single converged OS for multiple form factors.

Ubuntu and Windows, of course, have been working on this for a while. Had Pichai not interfered out of his own ego for his own pet project, Google would be leading this curve, not trailing behind. As another commenter said above, "There is a lag between management incompetence and revenue". But Android was leading this until Pichai got in the way.

Between a huge stumble like this, that the media barely even noticed, and the fact that under Pichai, Google has lost almost all consumer trust, I have a hard time believing Sundar doesn't deserve a large helping of the blame.

This hardly seems like a huge stumble.

Depends how well converged OSes start to take the main stage. If Windows gets a lot of traction with it (more likely than Ubuntu, to be honest), it could be one of those things where Google being two years ahead of the game would've helped. I see what Microsoft is doing today, and thinking "THIS was why I was so excited about Android when 3.0/4.0/etc. came out."

And considering the stumbles the ad market, their primary business, is having, being a strong device platform provider, which they've already shown they can monetize (outside of ads, Android is probably their next most profitable space), is really key.

Two years ago? Strange, I worked with Android in PC form-factor 3 years ago and while I haven't been following it, I was sure they're everywhere already.

They can easily fix this. If they don't, it speaks volumes about how Nest/Google/Alphabets values customer relationships. Take all the other google services and imagine what would happen if google were just as reckless, especially with long life products like home installed devices.

Home automation installation services or even contractors would also be cautious about Nest.

These shenanigans by Google and the numerous reports of the problems with Nest and their smoke detectors have basically guaranteed I don't include Google devices in my home automation setup. I would rather manually muck around with a raspberry pi and some random sensors bought online than rely on a Google product at this point.

There's a lot of room for a vendor to come in with open products, a pledge to maintain that open-ness, and decent integration to really take over the home automation market. I really feel like all the existing products are too proprietary to be of any interest to us home automation geeks.

Yeah, unfortunately, there's a huge middle ground not being tackled. I use INSTEON devices, which are proprietary, but can only interface outside through my PC's serial adapter (or a cloud hub, which I obviously didn't buy). I want consumer-quality switches and such in my house, so this was the obvious choice.

But then the open source hardware stuff is almost entirely limited to 'build it yourself' boards. And sure, I could buy some Arduino and Raspberry Pi hardware (I actually have a lot of it lying around) and spend a bunch of time working on it, but then it wouldn't be a nice wall unit like my switches I have.

There's a huge open space here. It's a market just asking for someone to step in and make products.

I have ALC (On-Q/Legrand) switches for the same reason. Hard-wired control, but reasonably nice (at least not clown) looking and operating switches in manual mode.

That's a key thing too that things like Wi-Fi lightbulbs and crud can't offer: Your light switch should still ALWAYS work like an ordinary light switch!

Companies sunset SAAS products (with subscription fees, one time setup fees etc) all the time when the cost to support them becomes too high, growth stalls etc. Clearly Alphabet/Nest could have done a better job of customer service and offered users a partial refund or discount on a replacement product. That said, is it realistic to expect a company to support a software service indefinitely (when the business case no longer makes sense), just because it's tied to a piece of physical hardware that you paid $199 for a few years ago?

Depends how you sunset it. Depends on the reasonable life of the product. In Europe at least Consumer Legislation has an expectation of a reasonable life. It's not reasonable for instance for lots of your fridges to die after only a couple of years. Car makers have to provide spare parts for, I think, six years after the end of production of a model.

I think a lot more could be done to sunset products gracefully, and with consideration for the paying customer. We'll be ceasing updates for this in a year, we'll keep the server active for x years. Be aware there will be no security fixes. Like the phased EoL of Windows releases.

I think quite a few examples of smart things are getting dangerously close to, or already passing, the line that would fit the legal definition of unreasonably short. SaaS only? We need to wait for case law and legislation to catch up I think.

Eighteen months life, then intentionally break your $300 product, with only 6 weeks notice? I think it would make an interesting test case with reasonable chance of success.

I trust Google very little as far as sunsetting their many releases.

Damnit. If you're going to remove my ability to use it after 18 months, then just sell it to me on an 18 month contract for $20/month and let me decide whether to sign. It's already clear I don't own the hardware, so why not make it official?

It would be tough for a hardware startup to do that, since they must buy the hardware upfront before they ship it to the user (and returns always cost $). What if the manufacturer stated clearly that your upfront purchase includes a free license to the SW for x months?

... then I would fully expect that I can replace their software with that made by others. Then feel free to make a business decision that part of the original product is no longer profitable and you're leaving the marketplace for sw/support - I still won't like it but at least the consumer has options to live with their not-fully dead hardware.

As a consumer - "hey too bad you didn't want to make a business of this but you suckered me in with your shiny new fangled thing and I gave you money for it - I didn't give you permissions to then decide that you didn't make enough money so now you're going to take your ball and go home leaving me with an expensive door stop"

I agree that it's annoying when a company sunsets any product (HW, SW or other), but why is it so much more annoying when it's a hardware product? Is it because you still have the physical thing? Most SAAS products have upfront/monthly costs, and when they fold consumers lose these sunk costs, but nobody is writing medium articles about that...

Again, depends why.

They went bust or are closing? OK that sucks, but it happens. Can't really be helped. Even if it's a hardware thing it's going to happen if there's a server-side component rather than entirely stand alone. Best case release some code, specs or open source to enable some hackery to keep hardwareThing viable.

We got bought, OldThing is boring so it's closing in 4 weeks, we're truly excited to be working with FaceGoog on the future of NewThing. Seriously not ok. People should be writing Medium articles about it. And yelling.

> but why is it so much more annoying when it's a hardware product?

Because applying SaaS business model to hardware is simply fucked up. Also, for many of those products one has to expend significant effort to make them not hackable by end-users, so if a company decides to make a proprietary, cloud-dependent device that then gets bricked when they move on, it only shows they actually worked hard to fuck their customers. Not to mention that in many of those products the cloud is not needed for any sensible reason and is in fact bad engineering - it's included only to make more money off people.

Sadly, as long as customers play ball this nonsense will continue - the market sells what people buy.

Having worked on "smart" hardware, this can't be done. For the reason of regulation.

Essentially, the law demands that no matter what you do with the software, the product won't malfunction (not just "not explode", it needs to work). Obviously that means no software that isn't made by the same engineering team ... also once the hardware is out that means no changes to the software unless someone does make their fridge explode. Even if they change the temperature 50 times a minute with the door open that can't affect the lifetime of the product. Needless to say, you block this in the software.

Unless courts start putting responsibility for the things people do with their own hardware on those people, this won't be forthcoming.

This makes sense into you throw OTA updates and cloud services into the mix. I'm not sure how those would even be allowed by the "the software must not change" rule. But even if you interpret it generosity, shutting down the service or pushing an update that bricks the device is very clearly an update that breaks functionality. Wouldn't that be forbidden by the above rules as well?

Also, there are "hackable" products on the market, e.g. the OpenWRT routers. Those still seem to be allowed.

Yep I would agree that breaking updates are a risk. In the case of a cloud service though, I'd bet the contract would specify a minimum maintenance duration very clearly spelled out, and that's going to be a few years, no more.

OpenWRT routers have been in the legal clear zone for a while (due to FCC exception for the WiFi bands), but that's changing [1]

[1] http://www.cnx-software.com/2015/07/27/new-fcc-rules-may-pre... (FCC page https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/kdb/forms/FTSSearchResultPage.cfm... )

People are somewhat confused about this. For instance you can change the firmware of smartphones, no ? Well, no, you can't. You see, what people call a cell phone contains a 100% locked down actual cell phone, and a PDA that's completely independent (and in some cases, more than one locked down system. E.g. NFC is it's own locked down system as well). These are fun things, they're smaller and smaller. In the last 2 years the actual cellphone, everything except the antenna fits in 0.5cm x 0.5cm x 0.1cm package that actually contains multiple chips. These things are connected to the audio devices of the phone, and therefore have sole control over what comes out of the speaker and where the microphone goes. They also have a serial network interface these days for 3G/4G, and the sim connects directly to these chips.

So technically android (or ios, or windows phone, or blackbery, ...) does not run on cellphones, it runs on the PDAs that we insert into cellphones. Therefore it does not need approval.

It also means that Android/IOS do not actually control (for example) the audio on smartphones, or whether a call is answered. Or whether, when asked for the location of the phone or the contents of SMS'es, or to call out and send out the audio the microphone receives, whether those requests are answered. Android/ios would never see those requests (though you may find the microphone suddenly doesn't work anymore in apps). And yes, this works even when there is no sim in the phone.

Whilst there are cellphones that don't provide law enforcement (I wonder if it's only law enforcement though) with these features, they're older models and are getting phased out. If you read this site, I bet your phone has these features. And like all features you don't control, you wouldn't like them if you knew what they were.

They're not a startup any more. I agree, they were in a tough situation. It's difficult for Nest, it's more difficult for consumers.

> when the business case no longer makes sense

Doing this kills ALL future business of this type. Who would buy such a device knowing this could happen?

Unless they don't plan on making consumer appliances anymore.

I don't like this at all, but I think you've got the calculus wrong. If you truly believe in IoT, then the percentage of future Alphabet customers who will ever hear about this scandal is tiny.s

Oh don't worry. I'll do my part in making sure more people hear about this.

Seriously though. Highlighting the ridiculousness of the current approach to IoT (including laughing off startups in this area that follow the SaaS/cloud model with hardware) is probably the only reasonable way of this mess.

I'm not saying it's an ideal outcome for a company to sunset a product, but why is the consumer expectation so different for pure software vs a connected hardware device (i.e. software + hardware)? Consumers experience sunk cost when any product gets sunset, whether it's hardware or not.

What bugs me is how many companies these days want to include reliance on the cloud for features that don't require it at all, in the interest of gaining access to more customer usage data, but then when they turn the servers off the product becomes useless.

This has become a key thing that I look for when buying new products. If the product relies on the cloud for a feature that I think should be entirely offline, the product will be immediately returned and a negative review will be left on the resellers site.

A perfect example was the early version of the Lockitron device. It required cloud access but had a one time payment. Based on that information alone I could not justify the purchase to myself even just to play with because it's a bad business model.

Fitbit. I fail to see why tracking my health, location, etc. is a cloud function, beyond selling my data. At least give me the watch free if you're going to sell my data too.

They then add insult to injury by making me sync via a dongle /connected cable to my laptop; at which point I could just as easily sync to a desktop client vs their otherwise "disconnected cloud".

I wouldn't have such a grudge against fitbit if they would make it easier to log to your own server. Even if I had to hijack DNS to accomplish it, I wouldn't mind. Its not like many people would take advantage of the option.

But the fact that they force you to use their servers to store your data so that they can turn around and sell it, frankly I hope they get sued for something. Anything.

There should be a law against selling customer data without the expressed consent of the customer whos data is being sold, per purchase. Even if the company is acquired.

The Turtlebeach Audiotron relied on accessing Turtlebeach's servers to function. They abandoned the Audiotron, and eventually the server, but did provide a patch so you could still use the Audiotron.

I still use the Audiotron every day. Still haven't found anything better.

How do you determine if a given feature 'should' be entirely offline?

Unlocking my front door? That has to work without internet access.

Turning my lights on and off? That has to work without internet access.

Logging my heart rate et all, ala fitbit? Nope, I should be able to use a server of my choosing, requiring that I use cloud servers for something I paid a one time fee for is an instant deal breaker.

A service that logged all of my access times and determined whether or not I was home based on the result? I would prefer that be run from my own server even optionally with a DNS hijack, but I would understand the need for the cloud in this situation.

Thanks for the info! Have you found many devices that meet this criteria? I can't think of any smart locks that run locally.

Though I haven't confirmed that this was fixed in new models, when I was first reviewing the Lockitron I contacted their support folks with my concerns about paying a one time fee for something that waa easentually a service and about being able to run my own server and (one of) the founder emailed me back and explained that in the next version my concerns would be addressed. That gave me hope for their next iteration but I haven't been back to them yet. I look forward to checking them out again.

Mostly it is because "Connected to the point of bricking" is very new.

Most "connected" devices simply have lesser or limited functionality when services they are connected to disappear.

It also comes down to Ownership. When I buy a device I expect it work until it gives up its electronic ghost. When I subscribe to a service I expect it to work for the month I paid for.

Ofcourse I would have never bought that hub in the first place because I require my products at a minimum to have a open API that can be used for Compatibility later.

Wall Garden should be resisted by consumers, it is sad most people do not even look at that, hopefully cases like this will push consumers to DEMAND manufacturer have open and inter operable systems

Interesting. The reality is that every connected device has an ongoing cost to the company that sells it. Most consumers probably aren't aware of this. Depending on the architecture, # of users etc this could be some fraction of a cent/month in AWS costs or much more. Should Connected Hardware companies/startups disclose this upfront when making the sale? i.e. say "Your $199 purchase includes a free license to our software for x years."

>>The reality is that every connected device has an ongoing cost to the company that sells it.

Not true, that is only the case for devices where the company wants to have exclusive control over the connection and resulting data, There are all kinds of open devices sold where I can connect to servers run by community, myself, or the company (many provide the cloud service and the device separately, so I buy the device then i have to buy a monthly service as well)

>Should Connected Hardware companies/startups disclose this upfront when making the sale? i.e. say "Your $199 purchase includes a free license to our software for x years."

That should be the minimum disclosure requirement.

Hardware has that upfront cost which consumers take as this should work for x amount of time. In the case of electronics I would hope they last a significant amount of time. If my hardware can work still at least give me a way to write my own code for it or use it as is with the "cloud" portions disabled/removed. If I get a new cell phone my old one doesn't need to become a paperweight because the carrier isn't pushing out updates. I can still use it as is or update it myself.

Not sure the analogy works. You would still need to pay some carrier an ongoing service fee to use your cell phone. Here we are talking about a connected device where the software service is offered for free.

Only if you want to use the carrier.

I have old phones that can't make telephone calls, but they still work fine as connected devices via wifi. They still work as cameras, mp3 players, gaming machines etc.

>Hardware has that upfront cost which consumers take as this should work for x amount of time.

What is X?

I think it depends on the product and the cost I am paying. x for a checkout lane electronic keychain that I paid $1.99 for I don't expect to last very long a month or two maybe. When I am paying $300 I would hope to get many years out of it before there may be hardware (rather than fixable software bugs) failure from a bad capacitor. Even then if you have the electronic knowhow you can replace the parts and keep it working. What lifetime do you expect out of a new TV you purchase? Should it stop working after a year or two or just continue to work as long as the hardware works?

The consumer expectation may be different for web sites (as those were always closer to services than products and so you never "bought" them in the first place).

For traditional desktop software and standalone apps, the expectation is not different at all. I still own a lot of old pc games that I bought at some point and play occasionally and would find it extremely irritating if they suddenly stopped to function without any acceptable reason.

Recently, things may be changing with mandatory auto-updating, subscription models and many apps just being front-ends for server-side processes. But as far as I know, most of those changes are pushed by vendors/developers and accepted by consumers as a necessary evil (if at all). It's not at all that customers would suddenly expect something different.

Forever? No. But what is reasonable to you? 0 days? What if it's a home appliance I paid around $5,000 for, like my most recent furnace install? Also 0 days?

I see it as an extension of their consumer software policy.

Have little to no customer service, even when money is involved, letting products stagnate for years and frequently pulling the plug on services.

Which is scary, because this hardware is dependent on Google-owned software and services.

After Google purchased Dropcam, they censored a thread about it's inability to save video feeds locally.

Empathy is not a core competency of google as an enterprise.

Google has always had poor customer service, this is nothing new. Most of their (profitable) product lines don't need customer service representation, so they don't care about it.

It needs to be understood that home automation appliances are going to be assumed to be long-life products. Nobody thinks about their light switch being an old version and needing to be replaced.

I'd say any home automation installer should be very wary of Silicon Valley-based automation "services", and focus on robust products which have been available for a long time.

I've done such installations. The simple solution is to use Honeywell products. It's good stuff that works as intended. The downside is its not even in the same ballpark as modern google/amazon/startup type devices. The customer gets what the customer wants so if someone wants ultra modern then conservatively designed products don't fly. Best advice is to vote with your wallet and stop trusting google products.

Good point.

My Hue lights work without an internet connection, and can be controlled from a device on my local network. And they are also made by an old-school company, Phillips.

There's ups and downs to Hue. If you recall earlier they tried axing out support for third party bulbs from their app. But they also deserve some kudos for basing their app and devices on a open platform to begin with.

Yes, but once people protested, they admitted their mistake and reverted it. AFAIK their position now is that they won't go out of their way to support third party bulbs unless the manufacturer joins their "friends of Hue" program, but their hub firmware isn't blocking them and should work with other bulbs that meet certain specs.

Home Automation is still niche. They probably hope to make up on the volume. It does not matter how badly they treat their current customer: if they find the iPhone of home automation, they will have hundred of millions of customers to make up for it.

They probably hope the guy will find the next big thing. That's more Google working internally as a VC in markets to be. Not that I think it is alright from such an established business like Google.

A few thousand very-pissed-off people here and a few thousand very-pissed-off people there...

s/people/early adopters/

Early adopters are people too.

Of course, that doesn't mean they're not pissed off, so nothing in your comment invalidates the parent's.

Edit: I assumed ill intent. Corrected it.

I read that slightly differently; selectively pissing off early adopters is worse, since they disproportionately influence products' odds of success.

Exactly. Google thrives on early adopters waiting in line for and spinning up their newest shiny thing. Sorry if the sarcasm was lost there.

It was lost on me, yes. Thanks for clearing it up.

Nothing says "fuck you" quite like pissing all over the people that helped make your platform a success by being the first to commit to your product.

Do you have some beef with him? I'm not a big fan of this sort of personal attack of someone's character on HN.

Lot's of people are throwing Google and alphabet in to the same bucket here. Please don't do that. The alphabet companies are free to be ran however they wish and Nest is an extreme example of NOT running a company the Google way. When the alphabet change happened, this became quite clear in just a few months time internally. What you're seeing here is further evidence of that.

Nobody gives a crap about these semantic games. Nest is owned by Google.


I'm trying to explain (perhaps poorly?) that the change is not simply semantic. No one who is part of Google proper has any say in what nest, glass or those other companies do at this point. None of the culture, support etc... transfers over. The CEOs of these new alphabet companies are free to do as they please. What you're seeing here is this in action.

Saying Google are somehow accountable for nest or glass is like saying that dropbox are accountable for the actions of reddit. They are literally that disconnected now when it comes to how the businesses are managed.

Consumers don't care how about Google/Alphabet organizes itself. Google owns Nest; that fact can't be avoided. When you own a company that intentionally bricks their customers' $300 devices for no other reason that they don't want to support them anymore, you're going to have to deal with the negative perception that it creates.

In this case, being disconnected is a deliberate choice by Google. If that leads to problems, they're still responsible. You can't just take your hands off something and disclaim all responsibility for what happens afterwards.

It was a deliberate choice by the former Google board, who no longer runs Google and now runs Alphabet. The blame lies with Alphabet, not one of it's many subsidiaries.

I think the problem is that Alphabet is basically what we used to call Google, and what is now called Google is just one aspect of what we used to call Google. Referring to Alphabet as "Google" is outmoded but it's sort of like saying "Blackwater" instead of "Academi."

They all ultimately answer to Larry Page, presumably.

All of the CEOs? Sure. Sundar manages Google though.

I think this is a little more tricker. When customers make buying decisions, there is "Nest, owned by Alphabet and not likely to be shut because they are broke" benefit that they get. When they fail to meet those expectations, it should and will certainly reflect on the trust for Alphabet. Mainly because of your argument: Alphabet has little control over the companies and one should stop expecting good treatment and product lifecycle just because it is under Alphabet umbrella.

If this is so true, then why don't the complete the task and spin the company off and hold a controlling share?

That's exactly what they did.

They did. 100% share.

What Nest is doing is little different to Reader or the other products Google killed. Alphabet is the common link and is clearly OK with this behaviour.

I bought a Dropcam when they were a new thing. When I realized they did literally everything via a cloud service and would be a brick without that service, I was furious. The incredible arrogance of a company making a webcam that sends your video to their servers, and provides no means to use the camera in a secure/local fashion, was astonishing to me.

I still can't believe something like Dropcam is such a huge success. The level of security awareness the general public has is terrifyingly small, and companies are taking advantage of it to produce brickable devices. It is the legal variant of ransomware...They can hold your data hostage for any reason and at any time. You're completely at their mercy, with regard to pricing and availability, and you have to trust they won't fall on hard times, or get tired of running the service.

This is the next front in the battle for electronic freedom, and lots of folks (even nerds) don't seem to realize it.

counter point: i pre-ordered dropcam for the reason that it was limited to cloud-use only. I wanted something dead simple to use so my wife / house sitter / etc could easily move it as needed, we had access anywhere without configuration, and devops/it being handled by someone else incase i'm not around. Classifying their cloud-only product design decision as "incredible arrogance" quite a stretch... if anything, sounds like incredible ignorance on part of buyer?

To your point about it being a brickable device... I figured by the time the product was "bricked" (e.g. company going bust, product end-of-life, etc), that the hardware would be so out of date that it'd be time to replace it anyway.

With that said... after Nest acquired them, there's been no new meaningful features, no decrease in price, no new camera features, etc. I cancelled the "DVR" plan and will be finding an alternate system later this year.

"if anything, sounds like incredible ignorance on part of buyer?"

I read the box. It listed a bunch of cool features. I bought it.

Nowhere on the box did it say, "We will keep all of your video and there is no way for you to use this device without Dropcam.com acting as an intermediary." I'm sure if I'd read some reviews, it would have been more clear to me what I was buying. But, I've bought cameras in this category before (first one I bought was a Panasonic Petcam about a decade ago, which worked wonderfully for many years, and didn't have the ability to hold my data for ransom), and never had one of them be this...um...useless, without the service associated with it. My expectation as a consumer of these kinds of devices was not, at all, met by what Dropcam is.

So, yes, I was ignorant of how Dropcam worked; but that ignorance was fostered by omission of key information on the Dropcam packaging.

"With that said... after Nest acquired them, there's been no new meaningful features, no decrease in price, no new camera features, etc. I cancelled the "DVR" plan and will be finding an alternate system later this year."

So...we're agreed, then, that you are at their mercy. You just have a much more forgiving attitude about their practices than I do. I consider it unethical (particularly the misleading copy on their packaging, but the general case of a device being ransomware, as well). Obviously, I'm not in the majority, since Dropcam is well-reviewed, and well-liked by a lot of people. I can't make people care about privacy, security, device re-usability, longevity of devices, reducing e-waste, and being able to make my own decisions about how I can use my devices, but I do still care about those things. Ease of use does not require giving up consumer choice.

ah but you didn't read ALL of the 300 page EULA, and discuss with the lawyer its specific interpretations and possible outcomes, therefore this is really your fault you see...

My expectation as a consumer of these kinds of devices was not, at all, met by what Dropcam is. I consider it unethical (particularly the misleading copy on their packaging, but the general case of a device being ransomware, as well)

Why didn't you just simply return the camera once you realized there was platform lock-in? Even after using Dropcam for significant time, the largest "investment" is the content captured during the "DVR" sliding window of 7 or 30 days--which you can export and manually download in chunks. How exactly was their product "ransomware"?

"I can't make people care about privacy, security"

FWIW, I care deeply about privacy/security, even more than some here. But how how does privacy / security relate to the service lock-in. If anything, the alternate "open" model has proven to be far worse in terms of privacy and security. I used my Dropcam to monitor the exterior of my house, pointed outward from a window. I accepted the tradeoffs, accepting the potential risk of Dropcam being hacked or a rogue engineer/admin, but trusting that they understood that risk and the need for appearing to care. Now, there's currently no consumer device on the market that I'd trust to continuously capture video in all common rooms (e.g. not bath/bed) in my house--even if only streaming to an on-prem server. The only option I'm comfortable with is building my own cameras, where I have control over the os/security/patches of the cameras.

So...we're agreed, then, that you are at their mercy. Sure, I agree that when purchasing a paired device and service offering, that you're at the mercy of that company to continue offering said service. I fully understood what I was getting when I purchased the camera, and felt that their model was worth $149. Maybe the marketing copy has changed since launch, but i fail to see how they were "unethical" or that the device is "ransomware". To be clear, I'm referring to Dropcam in 2012, not Nest.

> I figured by the time the product was "bricked" (e.g. company going bust, product end-of-life, etc), that the hardware would be so out of date that it'd be time to replace it anyway

How "out of date" can a simple webcam get? Not to the point of it not still being useful I would think. And the decision of hardware still being useful/usable should be the users choice, not the manufacturer.

Ubiquiti just came out with cameras and a DVR device (atom-based) to store the content with you: https://www.ubnt.com/unifi-video/unifi-nvr/

I've been looking at the ubiquiti nvr for a bit as i like their wireless stuff but i'm not sure what cameras i'd want. The reviews of the newer micro cameras are crap and the new-new g3 ones they just announced aren't delivering til fall.

I went with a Xiaomi Yi for all those reasons - it's a quarter the price, and I doubt Xiaomi will be very inclined to share my data with the powers that be in the US (and their sharing it with the powers that be in the PRC is not likely to affect me). Of course, it's inherently absurd that these devices don't allow you to stream the video off of them yourself, it makes them e-waste in the making. Possibly someone will figure out a way to install friendlier firmware on them via the micro-sd card...

I did the same. I'm dubious that I'll buy another one, but even with the lack of new shinies, I'm happy with my dropcam purchase. If it shuts down tomorrow with no story for how I can switch it to my own servers, I'll be less happy. But I used it to replace a homebrew setup with a cheap IP cam and my own storage -- I willingly went with the cloud route knowing that it could be shut down on me, and the ~two years of completely hassle-free operation has been worth it. The homebrew version was mine, all mine, and it was a bloody headache.

I'd strongly prefer to buy from a company that promised open sourcing / releasing access keys if they sunset the product. In fact, I'll probably look for that on future purchases...

I cancelled the plan as well, but ended up getting charged at renewal time. The effort required on my part to fix that mistake was unacceptable (submitting screen shots of my Nest account details, required to send photo of the serial number on the camera, weeks of communication delays), and they STILL owe me some money, and have ignored further requests.

> arrogance of a company making a webcam that sends your video to their servers, and provides no means to use the camera in a secure/local fashion

I basically say the same thing about every 'smart home' device.

I would love to be able to query my thermostat to find out when and how long it turned the heat/AC on and whatnot, but I only want it to talk to my local wifi and devices. I don't want it to use a cloud service at all for anything ever.

I don't have that option, so I don't use them.

After the Dropcam fiasco, I wondered if there would be a market for secure smart devices with an open API. To me, it's an obvious benefit and one that I would buy (whereas I won't buy the cloud-based devices of this sort), but I suspect the ease of use of something like Dropcam trumps all of the other considerations. I even considered doing a Kickstarter to build something in that space; the technical side, both hardware and software, is actually very, very, simple these days. I mean, a thermostat is a temperature sensor, a clock, and some switches; the kind of thing electronics nerds put together when first learning. The smallest Arduino could more than handle the task (for the prototype, and a dedicated device could be manufactured in quantity very cheaply). Controlling switches and sensors in software is also very simple. Making a beautiful UI (which I think is a big part of the appeal of Nest, Dropcam, and the like) is more challenging, for me, but perhaps there's a UI/UX designer out there who has similar inclinations.

I never thought I'd want to be in the home automation business, or the web cam business, but this kind of thing is just so offensive to me, that whenever I think about it, I want to do something.

The problem with taking these things out of the cloud is that you're then a hardware provider rather than a service provider.

Your revenue would come from selling increasingly inexpensive hardware and/or trying to sell your software to run in a consumer environment where you have very little control.

Very few companies can make money that way. Smartthings is backed by Samsung (800 lb gorilla). They appear to be playing a long game now because they provide cloud-backed service (for free) and cheap hardware. The strategy will very clear shift towards subscription service eventually, IMHO.

Perhaps a hybrid business model could be achieved by setting the hardware to talk to a central server of the user's choice. The server software would be open source and be manageable via a web interface, which is mobile-friendly. The company would simultaneously offer a cloud-based alternative for a monthly fee, so that the user could avoid having to setup his/her own server. As a third option, each device could be managed individually; this is likely most appropriate if the user only has a single device.

So long as the company does not go rogue and purposefully brick the devices, then the company could shutdown and the devices could still be usable. Further, other companies could provide remote management services for these devices. Being IoT devices, though, would make them still susceptible to security issues, but at least being able to use them on a segregated network could limit that from happening.

I haven't tried it personally but I know a few people who think highly of SmartThings [1], which is a relatively open platform. I've also experimented with Raspberry Pis. However, to be honest, there are a fairly limited number of "smart" things I can do around my house which would be genuinely useful.

[1] http://developer.smartthings.com/

It is a neat platform. I use it myself.

HOWEVER.... it DOES rely upon Smartthings "in the cloud". Every interaction with sensors is mediated through the cloud and if something goes wrong on their side (and it does) mayhem ensues.

FWIW, the developer platform consists of writing groovy scripts in their web-based IDE. The code runs on their servers, not your devices.

It's not just Smartthings which betray users by collecting all your data. If you need documentation help with writing those Apache Groovy scripts, you might think going to the Apache website to look up Groovy would provide a safe browsing experience. But virtually every link there for Groovy redirects to groovy-lang.org. Look up the DNS name registry and you'll see your IP address isn't being collected by Apache, or even a business -- that domain name is owned by a single private individual without any business or non-profit affiliation. When it comes to business ethics, like attracts like.

That does look promising. It's kinda hard to tell how SmartThings all fits together with devices and what level of control consumers actually have, but, the word "open" appears a lot in their copy.

Moteino is pretty cool if you want to DIY: http://lowpowerlab.com/moteino/

Looking at the trends in computing,coffee makers,printers,routers etc, it kinda seems like a lost battle, isn't it?

There are plenty of smart home devices that work without any form of internet connection. Have been for 20+ years, too.

There's "smart", as defined 20 years ago...which is timers, complex schedules, etc. And, then there's "smart" as we define it today, which is WiFi, browser or app-based UI, etc. I'm unaware of a Nest competitor that is not tied to the cloud-based service of the provider. I am not super attuned to the market, however. Things have likely (hopefully) changed since last I researched things like Nest a year or two ago.

Apple HomeKit works without cloud services. It is entirely local with your phone, mac, iPad etc directly interacting with the devices. I'm sure some of the individual devices from partners may leverage cloud services but I have yet to purchase a device that requires it. The only "cloud" aspect is if you want remote access to your devices an AppleTV can act as a proxy/gateway that let's you control your device from the internet rather than the local network. The eco-system is a hot mess at the moment but the basic design is well thought out.

Yes, I have a system with browser and mobile ui, based on zwave, 433mhz and modbus devives. The software I use is symcon, which has existed for 5 years at the least; but there is also eg openhab for those insisting on open source only. I optionally have internet integration too, but strictly optional.

I have only seen ones that allow you to program them (wake, leave, return, sleep) but wifi enabled for querying I have only seen ones that require a cloud account, even if you can also locally query them.

I hope there will be a trend where the computing power and storage goes from the cloud back to the customer's site. The internet should only be an addon for connectivity but not be needed for the device to work.

Good old PCs weren't so bad after all. You had all your data and software locally and could do whatever you wanted.

The good old days.. I remember ~2007 everyone making a big brouhaha about moving crap tons of stuff "to the cloud" and I felt so morally outraged that in this future I'd have no control over the uptime, accessibility, or core content based on my own actions - it'd be left up to someone else completely.

I think it was a couple years ago I finally stopped resisting and said "fuck it" - signed up for Spotify, shut the hodge podge of syncing/ home NAS solutions I was using and just got a Dropbox account.

See my other comment somewhere on this page. From my POV, Synology is in a really good place to pull this off. You can have one of their little boxes serve audio, video, keep your notes ala OneNote, all accessible remotely if need be. With just a liiiiiitle more, it could be your IoT hub.

Others outside Synology write stuff for those boxes, evidence that it's not locked down, so I suppose with enough hacking one could get a DropCam to work on a Synology box. But it would be a hell of a lot easier if Synology had a list of plug-and-play devices that they either build themselves or partner with another manufacturer. The latter is unlikely to happen, given the rent-seeking behavior we see out of manufacturers.

> I still can't believe something like Dropcam is such a huge success. The level of security awareness the general public has is terrifyingly small

I think you are totally misjudging this market. To the average person, a Dropcam is empirically far more secure in practice than many alternatives have proven to be. It's certainly what I'd recommend to a friend.

A few years ago, Foscam Wifi cameras were popular with parents. You could buy one for <$100 and they worked over wifi and had no service you had to buy. But then they were hacked by the thousands[1] with repeated major security issues over multiple years[2]. There were numerous news reports of parents finding strangers yelling obscenities at their babies in the middle of the night using the camera's talk-back function. This happened to multiple people I knew in real life.

This led to numerous articles like this one[3] telling parents to update passwords, disable UPnP, tweak router settings, update firmware, etc, to prevent future hacks. But to a parent who's baby was woken up in the middle of the night by a hacker, they are probably just going to throw the hacked camera in the trash.

By comparison, Dropcam is a totally integrated solution that requires no user-initiated updates, no network configuration and is backed by the reputation of Google. To the average parent that doesn't want to spend their life reading Foscam forums, that's a much more attractive solution and much less likely to get hacked due to not being updated or properly configured and secured.

Dropcam/Nest/Google produces a product that works really well right out of the box with almost zero configuration and is relatively secure. The non-cloud alternatives do not. Until someone offers a solution that "just works" like Dropcam, consumers will keep opting for the cloud-based solution.

Yes, it sucks for electronic freedom. But that's not the main feature that matters to the market.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2013/08/13/how-a-cre... [2] http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/01/bug-exposes-ip-cameras-ba... [3] http://www.brockthompson.com/blog/3-ways-protect-foscam-hack...

Totally agree.

I think there are a lot of people on HN who dont remember that just because they can easily set something up regular people can't do the same thing.

Of cause having dropbox/dropcam simplicity comes with downsides but for regular consumers its not a question between self hosting and cloud, its between having something that can do this and not having it at all.

It seems like the complexity of getting around NAT/firewalls is likely to stymie a lot of potential users. Making a cloud service is a bad idea for all kinds of reasons, but it simplifies this important aspect of getting the device up and running.

Yes, that's absolutely an issue. And, it would even be OK, for me, to have that be the default, as long as they provide some other means of dealing with the device. WiFi isn't hard, at all. So give me a local web UI, and a way to store things locally or remotely using some standard protocol. That's dead simple to implement, and routers and printers have been doing it for a couple decades. Simply making the device usable without the cloud service would have been enough for me to not be so angry with Dropcam, and enough for me to feel like this is not a failure of ethics in the tech sector.

I've owned a number of devices in this category; the first was a Panasonic Petcam, which worked great for me, for many years. It had the ability to email me videos and photos, save to arbitrary FTP storage, etc. This was over a decade ago! If they could manage all that back then, why is it so difficult now, with networking tools being so much more advanced today?

There are plenty of cameras like what you're describing on the market today. Modern incarnations of the Panasonic Petcam. Search 'WiFi IP camera'. You just don't hear about them because they aren't hyped to high hell like Dropcam.

Yes, I've got a couple. I was sort of changing the subject to other home automation devices, without really being clear about that. Nest is clearly the market leader in the home automation category; at least for thermostats. I'm sure there must be others, but Nest is the only one I see at Home Depot and Lowes. I think they've executed on their plan remarkably well, so taking them on with something that is a much lower margin product (a hardware device that doesn't hold the consumer for ransom for the monthly bill) would be extremely difficult, I think. And, because they do so much of their thinking in the cloud, their devices can be dumber/cheaper. So, they win on two fronts, as long as consumers don't mind being fleeced in this way.

And, yeah, hype has a lot to do with it. How have products like Dropcam and Nest generated so much buzz? I guess people genuinely prefer them, and consider the user experience worth the price (both in terms of money and in terms of privacy and choice).

> I still can't believe something like Dropcam is such a huge success. The level of security awareness the general public has is terrifyingly small, and companies are taking advantage of it to produce brickable devices. It is the legal variant of ransomware...They can hold your data hostage for any reason and at any time. You're completely at their mercy, with regard to pricing and availability, and you have to trust they won't fall on hard times, or get tired of running the service.

That is the difference between tech professionals and the general public. We care, others don't. Make it work, make it just expensive enough folks will buy it to fix their problem while you clean up, profit.

If you want things to change, it'll only happen with regulation.

> We care, others don't.

That's not a justification to add data stealing features and obfuscated dependencies to a remote, probably short lived server.

We understand the nature of those features, others don't.

I'm not justifying it. I'm explaining why it plays out in the marketplace.

Ironically, I was at a presentation by a Chinese surveillance camera company and they were saying that they are moving their image recognition and processing to the device from the cloud because the bandwidth and centralized processing is not scalable enough. Just as a general engineering matter, the devices will get more smarts.

Every time I see a new security hardware startup I immediately look for what their products can do without a cloud service.

9/10 the answer is: absolutely nothing. In 2-3 years it'll be in a landfill, not because the hardware is obsolete, but because the firmware made it so. Landfills full of hubris.

Landfills full of hubris.

Landfills full of unicorn poop.

This is why I have decided against the Dropcam/Nestcam. We currently use the (now end-of-lifed) Logitech Alert system. Each camera has its own storage and you can option to have that offloaded to a network device. The entire system functions without any dependency on their backend. For free you even get live streaming (which does depend on their backend). However, for something like only $80/yr you can also access the video stored on the cameras for playback. And that one fee gets you all the cameras in your network (where Dropcam charges more... and per camera). I guess Logitech could do it cheaper because their backend just connects you to your cameras so they don't have to handle the data storage/streaming. And even though they end-of-lifed it, they still work. I plan to use them until the wheels fall off. Was hoping to switch to Dropcams, until I researched them more to find out they are cloud-only.

Have you found an alternative product you prefer?

Welcome to your next fridge.

Yeah, I made some cheesy jokes about this on April Fools Day: http://thingmin.com

It is a sad evolution of things. What happens to your Model S if Tesla goes out of business? The whole "remote compute / hosted" thing is a challenge. I hit it recently when I was looking to demonstrate an old game that used to run on Win98 and realized the version on the CD was unplayable and the servers where it originally downloaded the 2 gigabyte "patch" was no longer online. I found an older image of my C drive from back in the day and with a lot of work got that running under vmware workstation, only to have it still be unusable because I couldn't get the vmware version to simulate a 3D card that DirectX 4 would talk to. So well and truly dead as far as I am concerned.

So having all this stuff depend on other stuff which is only relevant at the current point in time where all the systems are online, is a recipe for massive loss of infrastructure support. The whole "long lived home server" thing starts to become a compelling response.

This is something that hits gaming especially hard, yeah. It sucks. What especially sucks is most people don't understand the downsides. Most people don't understand that their kids won't be able to play or even look at those games.

Most game devs don't even realize it. I had an interesting chat with one of the WoW devs a few months back and I asked him what his thoughts were on the ephemerality of what's created. Not only how nobody will experience the content but how all the lessons learned from creating the content, all the man-years spent in creating the art, the design etc are also lost. Well, he didn't really have an answer, I think the question just made him feel bad. Understandable.

We really do work in an impermanent field. The day we stop pulling weeds it all slowly fades away.

This is also one of the reasons I've moved most of my "hub like" functions to home assistant https://home-assistant.io/ which is open source 100% https://github.com/balloob/home-assistant

I was burned by them buying Revolv, the most promising of all hubs due to having multiple antennas and touted as supporting multiple new protocols via software updates (which never happened post merger).

As an early adopter, I'm used to being burnt by technology, but for some reason, the Revolv disappointment really hurt. It actually reduced my early adopter tendencies ever since.

I think it hurt so much because the product underdelivered from day one (I purchased it on day one) and did not improve over time in an area of technology that should have been doable.

Oh well.

This is why you never buy on day one. You wait to buy on day seven after the reviews come out.

That's a really nifty bit of software; I look forward to checking it out.

Sounds like it does what I want: runs on my desktop, can be made accessible to the world. That has security implications, of course, but those can be addressed.

So... are there any hubs that specifically work with home-assistant? I like the idea of home-assistant, but I've already got a ton of z-wave already in my house.



But if you want to simply put home assistant on a raspberry pi and use the zwave integration natively you can:


Otherwise it works with vera z-wave hubs (https://home-assistant.io/components/vera/) or the ISY944

I am in the very early stages of home automation. I've had a Nest for years, but only last week I installed a Z Wave dimmer (one of the Cooper Aspire series) and set up Home Assistant with with Aeon Labs Gen5 Z Wave dongle[1].

I've been very impressed with Home Assistant. The developer is very active, and happy to discuss development proposals in the project gitter.im chat room.

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/Aeon-Labs-Aeotec-Z-Wave-Z-Stick/dp/B00...

Yup, balloob is about as nice as it gets for an open source maintainer. He is why I started trying to contribute to Home Assistant (that and it is actually overall very good python code and how an OSS project should be organized).

For Z-Wave, they use OpenZWave, which has a list of compatible controllers: https://github.com/OpenZWave/open-zwave/wiki/Controller-Comp...

Companies are getting more and more creative with interpreting what 'ownership' actually means. Books you've bought evaporate, equipment stops working, cars that can't be serviced other than at authorized dealerships and so on. Ownership is a term that has been stretched way beyond the breaking point.

Any device that needs an internet connection in order to function should be leased, not bought.

Well it was apparently leased, just the customer wasn't informed about that. The nice side benefit is they get to have a nice container of hummus at the end -- don't have to return it.

Then these companies complain and cry how everyone is pirating things and nobody wants to buy their products. A lot of people in Western countries, I feel use pirated products not because they don't have the money to pay, but because it is a better user experience -- no forced commercials to watch, FBI warnings over which you can't fast-forward, music doesn't disappear if they buy a new device and so on.

> Then these companies complain and cry how everyone is pirating things and nobody wants to buy their products

To be fair, I think you'll find that there's very little overlap.

On the upside, the respect of consumers for the concept of "IP" is getting creative too, and with 3D printing exploding, I'm not sure that this is a war companies want to engage in.

I think what users actually need is a smart home computer: one device, for the entire family, which provides sits on the Internet and provides secure access to home-network devices (e.g. security cameras, media players) and which gives easier-to-use (albeit perhaps less-secure) access to those things on the LAN. It could use containers to run blobs of code from different vendors. Given modern computing resources, it could actually be the computer, with mom & dad & the kids all using tablets, phones and lightweight network computers as little more than X servers.

In this situation, there's no need to worry about a vendor's servers being shut down: one's own server continues to run, and continues to provide service. One has control, and yet for the vast majority of people who don't care, one needn't think about it until one wishes to.

Agreed. In fact, there is overlap in what you've just described and what I call "Personal Application Omnipresence," [1] a model of computing where applications run to service you (and your family) but are made available to all of your IO devices (phones, tablets, desktop terminals).

[1] http://tiamat.tsotech.com/pao

This is strongly what I've been advocating for. I use a desktop PC as my home automation controller at home. I feel that services like Sandstorm.io offer an amazing opportunity for self-hosted 'cloud services' in the future, and some of the good open source home automation software should replace what are currently cloud-based devices today.

We are headed that way with Rockstor open source project. It's an advanced NAS platform based on BTRFS features and also has docker based app framework built-in called Rock-ons. Shameless plug, but only because it's highly relevant.

More power on the edges of the internet please!!!

rockstor.com forum.rockstor.com

what you are describing is a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloudlet which is a machine which sits on the edge and enables spinning up and down of vms for services in an isolated manner

Wow, this is certainly something to think about in the age of the IoT's.

I guess the question should be asked as to where the line is between when a user should and shouldn't expect a device to work. Especially in the coming age of drivers less cars.

I can easily see a case where each driver-less car will need to talk to a mother-ship if for no other reason than syncing with other cars around it, getting new GPS maps, etc.

I think most people would be rightly disappointed if their car was suddenly bricked and unable to work due to the car's manufacturer end of lifeing their car.

Where is the line between bricking a $300 device and a $30,000 device?

The only close analogy that quickly comes to mind is video games. Most now require online servers to play, or at least get the most out of them. Some companies like ID software have been good about releasing the required code to keep their games online long after they no longer want to support them, others companies have been, ummm, less willing or able to do so.

You don't have to imagine, cars are already being remotely disabled on purpose due to late loan repayment[0].

[0] http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/miss-a-payment-good-l...

Only for borrowers with poor credit who explicitly agree to such a thing as a condition of getting a car loan, though.

Until things like these become "standard clauses", with a side of "data shared with select partners"

For now. But if most lenders require this you couldn't have much of an option to say no. They always test things like this with the market most easily exploited.

Reminds me of prepaid gas and water meters in the UK. They started out only doing them for those who missed payments or had poor credit, but now they're everywhere. Most new homes get a prepay meter which they can wirelessly disconnect.

Considering the competition for customers with good credit, I doubt that lenders will collude to have this included for all loans.

> Most new homes get a prepay meter which they can wirelessly disconnect.

I'm really not clear on why this is insidious. A utility worker has the legal right to come shut it off, why shouldn't they be able to do it remotely?

Because in most European countries, water is considered a human right: No one can turn off your water, your debt will just increase.

Then the problem would seem to be illegal cutoffs, not the method with which they're performed.

Before, they had to get a court order just to get into your house to turn it off – now they can turn you off remotely, and you have to go to court to contest it.

Sorry but none of this sounds insidious to me - if you don't pay for something, you don't get to use it.

Normally I would agree, but not when it's basic services. If you could see the damage it does to a family when water/gas/electricity is cut off, simply because they're poor, I don't believe that most people would feel that it's "fair".

Also prepaid plans are somewhere between 150GBP to 200GBP more expensive peer year, which just adds to the cost of being poor.

What's wrong with that? You don't really own the car if you haven't paid off the debt. As long as it's not disabled while it's being driven (that would endanger others), I don't see an issue with that.

Not just disappointed. A car being in this same situation could be extremely dangerous to people riding in it, or just in the nearby area. Imagine if your autonomous car just stops midway along a motorway at 70mph, or in rush hour traffic, or in just about any other important situation. That's a situation that'd be pretty hard to avoid for a manufacturer, given all the timezones and places around the world that such a vehicle could be used.

At least this device merely controls some devices inside a house, where it switching off is a simple inconvenience rather than a danger to life and limb.

The solution to these problems is fairly simple, at least in theory. The 'smart' device simply loses any functionality dependent on the maker's network when services are shut down. Fewer people complain about a lot of Nintendo's games losing online functionality because there's a single player and various options that doesn't dependent on it. So if Mario Kart 8 or Luigi's Mansion 2 has its servers go offline, you've got a perfectly decent game which simply loses online multiplayer.

In these cases, if the services goes away, it should simply become a normal device that the user configures themself independently of the company's network.

I think the public will eventually notice that gadgets and appliances that rely on apps and internet access are a risky investment. Even multinational appliance manufacturers give up on the smart features in their TVs after several years.

Forget the high end products with their fancy features and instead stick with reliable basic/mid range products that will last for decades rather than years.

Worst part is that every time I turn on my Samsung TV it notifies me that some feature that I have never used will go offline in ~2 months time. Of course, this notification comes with a few minutes delay, so it pops up just a few minutes into a show. gah

What's "amusing" to me is it seems that all except the very lowest end TVs come with "smart" features, now. The good news is that it's not really a differentiator, the bad news is that a poor integration can cause your TV to "boot slowly" -- my current TV, purchased for other reasons but with smart features included, won't let you use the input selection button until about 30s after being turned on from standby.

> my current TV, purchased for other reasons but with smart features included, won't let you use the input selection button until about 30s after being turned on from standby.

Just about on par with those vacuum tube TV sets of the past millenium.

The correct answer is that the car must have a documented API that can be served by anybody the owner choose to hire.

That is not the answer most countries are implanting.

Ha - imagine a bank robbery escaping in a driverless car, only to have the manufacturer brick it during their daring escape.

I can imagine a much scarier scenario...

You use whatever app to summon a car. You give it a destination, and instead, the car makes a detour to the local police station. the address you entered is in a higher crime rate locality, and therefore the car owner approved further "screening". So the car goes to the local police station for a routine search of the car (authorized by car owner) and a dog search of you...

That kind of future is one I am worried about.

just because the car owner allow search of his property, it does not make your property available.

and i am also pretty sure even a bad lawyer could get you a criminal kidnap case out of this.

Probably not when the TOS of the autocar service includes consent to such security-related rerouting.

Hah. Has anyone been able to uphold a "You agree to being abducted" in a terms of service before?

It's not, legally, abduction when you are in an airliner and the pilot reroutes because of a security incident; why would it be in a single passenger commercial automated vehicle?

Because you can't just safely step off of a plane? Come on, that's a terrible analogy. Taxi cabs can't suddenly re-route you to the police station against your will.

I'm not sure it is so bad for technology to force us to confront our ideas about justice head on.

From a ridiculous bullshit standpoint, arrest by autocar isn't so far off from stop and frisk.

There was a short story cropped up, I think here on HN, a few weeks back with exactly that scenario.

My search-fu fails to find you a link.

You're right. I wasn't sure if it was here, reddit, or somewhere else. IIRC, it also had a quadcopter that jammed GPS or something, and the auto-taxi drove through a bridge and fell in the water.

This can already happen with OnStar.

But you can pull the SIM card from OnStar and the car will still work.

it would be easier if the manufacturer has it drive you to the police station instead

It's interesting how so many people think this is a new problem because of IoT.

This problem has existed for years with games. If you had a game that had to be online to play, and the company decided to stop running the servers, you were screwed.

Sure, sometimes people reversed engineered it, and while the company usually didn't care, it was technically illegal.

We need some laws to protect consumers, that either say that they must release their API if they're going to shut down, or at least make reverse engineering the system legal.

> We need some laws to protect consumers, that either say that they must release their API if they're going to shut down, or at least make reverse engineering the system legal.

The EFF proposed making a DMCA exemption for reverse engineering game server functionality when the official servers have shut down, making the game useless. And of course the industry (with a little help from the MPAA) has fought it tooth and nail:


Apparently "hacking" abandoned games encourages hacking in general, and, as in the classic orphan work argument, allowing reverse engineering for all abandoned works would rob publishers of the revenue for the tiny, tiny portion of them that they may (or may not) re-release some day.

The Librarian of Congress gave limited approval of the proposal, allowing circumvention of the case you mentioned, where an online check is required just to play local single player, but not anything else. Creating a new multiplayer server, for instance, is still illegal.


I'm with removing any law that says reverse engineering is illegal (regardless if some company is in business or not) but it would be unfair to require a company that's going out of business to do costly work before they're allowed to not exist anymore. It would be also be unfair to require all products be guaranteed to work forever. Consumers just need to educate themselves and if they can't accept the potential loss they can just not buy the product and maybe tell company that's why they're not buying it so the company can maybe improve the product. All I'm trying to say is, please, no more silly laws :)

I think the transition to a physical item makes a huge difference, mentally, to the customer: see also John Deere tractors [1] (and almost certainly automobiles in the coming years).

You feel like you OWN physical products, even when they are tied to a service like this.

1. http://www.wired.com/2015/04/dmca-ownership-john-deere/

Planned obsolescence is extremely prevalent (just see Apple's view on it - http://www.geek.com/apple/phil-schiller-thinks-its-sad-that-...), and this intentional bricking is a close and sinister cousin. Before the idea of regularly replacing your hardware was so widespread, companies needed to at least pay lip service to the idea of continuing support. Now that it's become the status quo to buy a new phone every two years, it looks like some are starting to conclude that the savings in support costs are worth the PR hit.

Very pro-profit, very anti-consumer.

That Phil Schiller quote is, frankly, a pretty lousy attempt at establishing that that is Apple's "view" on planned obsolescence. The swipe at Apple in this context is absurd. I have 15-year-old Apple products that are still working perfectly well. I have a 9-year-old iMac on my desk that is still up 24/7.

I have zero (0) Apple products that have been unceremoniously bricked by Apple in the way Google is doing to the product in question. Zero.

Apple is a lot more subtle. They just don't give a damn about the performance of older devices. The iPhone 5 runs iOS 6 much faster than iOS 9[1]; Apple is clearly more interested in having people upgrade to a faster phone than optimizing software for older ones.


Bullshit. El Capitan and iOS 9 both substantially improved the performance of older devices, compared to the previous version.

Apple's not "subtle". They are actively working in the opposite direction from what you are claiming. That's why my 9-year-old iMac still works like a charm. That's why iPhones are still able to run the latest software YEARS after the competition has ceased to have any updates.

Apple is interested in improving its OS. iOS 6 might run faster than iOS 9, although this stupid video doesn't prove that. But you know what? iOS 6 also had a lot less features. You want Apple to stand still for a period of 4 years on feature upgrades? That's nice. You can stay with iOS 6, then. Nobody will stop you. The rest of us would like the updates, thank you very much.

"Planned obsolescence" as a phrase applied to Apple is bullshit, has always been bullshit, and is perhaps more bullshit these days than ever before.

My tinfoil-y suspicion is they make my 3-yr-old mac feel slower right before a major OS upgrade. Then i download the new version and am so happy about how snappy everything is for a while. ;)

Google has nothing to do with it. Nest is a subsidiary of Alphabet, and even then the responsibility is 100% with Nest and not Alphabet. Tony Fadell comes from an Apple pedigree, if we're blaming one of the two.

The name change to Alphabet and movement of project/product ownership to Alphabet's subsidiaries is a recent thing. People will, for quite some time, equate Alphabet and Google when speaking about the parent company (Alphabet) in relation to other subsidiaries.

How can Alphabet not have any responsibility if they're the ultimate owners?

Remind me where Alphabet's money comes from.

The hardware should be leased then, or software should be open sourced at EOL so people can use what they have paid for.

I really dislike the tendency of the new economy to simply pull the plug, not because of end of life, or unprofitability, but apparently because they're excited to work on something new.

To hell with your exciting journey, I paid good money for something I'd like to work for a reasonable length of time. I want home automation and appliances to work until they go pop.

It puts me off buying a lot of these things. We've already had smart TVs turning off features like Skype in 2 yo sets.

I wish Synology would get on the stick and and make/acquire a Dropcam-like device for their NAS products. Why would Synology, a maker of mass storage appliances, head off to the topsy-turvy world of consumer products? Look at their software offerings that run on their hardware. DS Note, an Evernote/OneNote competitor? They have put a non-trivial amount of work to produce it, and it's good enough I use it in lieu of aforementioned products. Does it sell more NAS products? Dunno, I'm assuming it must. I just know that all of my notes stay on a machine that I own. That machine is five or six years old, and Sinology continues to crank out updates for it. When they stop, my box will still work.

DS Note is just one example, there's buttloads of software that Synology cranks out for these little boxes, including security cam software. Problem is, tracking down which camera works with the NAS is non-trivial, and frankly more trouble than I care to expend. Now if Synology said, "here's a $200 camera. Point it at your NAS. All data stays on your local network, no 'cloud' services to rely on. Sorted.", I'd buy four of them that same day, no questions asked, shut up and take my money.

Don't people already do this with Synology NAS boxes? Just a normal IP camera, writing to storage and with remote access set up it should work. Not consumer plug and play, but I swear I've read about people doing this...

Oh, people do it. I was going to do it, but there's a list of hundreds of compatible cameras. Of those hundreds, which ones suit my needs? Which ones are less than $300? What is the definition of "works"? (There's "works, but...", and then there's "works out of the box with five minutes of configuration, and here's a link to the settings you want".)

IOW, yes, there is a currently available solution. What there isn't, AFAICT, is a "click here, wait two days for Amazon, have it running five minutes after you open the box" like Nest or Withings.

I run MotionEyeOS on a raspberry pi and store my images and video on a NAS. Doesn't have to be a Synology.

This is starting to be a real problem. What if Tesla decides to shut down their cars after 7 years or your phone stops working after 2 years? I bet somebody somebody will come up with an idea for a house that shuts down after a certain time.

If you can't rely on ownership of something anymore we'll be in big trouble. Maybe there will be a countertrend where instead of relying on the cloud as storage/computing service computing and storage will go back to the customer.

We already have housing as a service (eviction is close enough to shutting down, so it has that to).

It's not so bad, people generally understand the implications of renting and there are laws protecting their rights.

I wonder if people were clearer that these gadgets were unlikely to stick around for 3 years if they would buy them at all.

As a longtime Dropcam owner, I find this very unsettling. Truth be told, Dropcam service has steadily decreased in quality ever since the Nest acquisition. Not a month passes without an unexplained multi-hour outage; our mobile apps are randomly logged out every few days, requiring us to enter lengthy passwords while nervously wondering what that motion alert might be about. One day the whole Nest rigmarole will become inconvenient for google and poof - our $200+ camera will become yet another paperweight.

My only hope is that FOSS will become an option for these devices. There have been examples[0] of Dropcams getting rooted, so perhaps not all is lost here.

[0]: http://blog.includesecurity.com/2014/04/reverse-engineering-...

How long, as a practical manner, is google required to run these servers? Until all the devices die? 3 years? 5 years?

Don't get me wrong, I'm with you. I think 4 years from sale is reasonable though. Whatever the commitment is, it should be on the packaging, and it would be nice if the various state and federal consumer protection laws were applied here.

There should be something on the box or in the associated paperwork. Think "frustration-free service terms", similar to Amazon's frustration-free packaging. I shouldn't have to dive face-first into reams of legalese just in order to figure the half-life of my newly purchased gadget.

"Forever" is definitely not the answer I'm looking for here, but there should be a date, and preferably a DIY way forward for those of us who're technically inclined and have stocked up on sufficient amounts of elbow grease. This could be accomplished similarly to the Parse sunset: the service won't run anymore, but here's all the stuff you need to get it going, good luck! I'll take that over the seemingly imminent paperweightization of my camera.

I think the business model of "selling things" may be out-of-date at this point, and instead we'll see companies giving away hardware that requires that you subscribe to a monthly service to use it.

A number of old-economy businesses already do this, eg. razors, printers, car leases, apartments. Kinda ironic that this comes on the heels of the "ownership society" though.

Long time coming.

I read The Goal and its sequels in the early 90s. The struggling fictional businesses were turned around by transitioning from production towards service oriented business models. Very out of the box thinking at the time.


I really enjoyed the books at the time. Not great literature. But very thought provoking.

EU consumer protection laws give you an implied 3 year warranty, so I that's a good start a suppose.

To align business interests, I'd probably like to see something like "3 years free service included, after that a subscription is required" so that customers are an asset rather than a liability.

In addition, everything should have some kind of use without a cloud mode, even if it's not fully featured. E.g. Dropcam should revert to a basic USB webcam in lieu of a cloud service, if only to reduce the amount of electrical waste we're producing. Ideally firmware signing keys should be released when a product is EOL'd, so the open source community can pick up the torch.

If I remember correctly Federal regulations require hardware manufacturers to support their product for 7 years after production end.

To put it bluntly, this is what you get for buying a device that relies on a remote service. You have to expect it won't work forever.

Once you give up control to someone else you have no say.

Remember the good old days when the Dropcam had a practically-magical Bluetooth 4.0 config process and when the Dropcam Pro was sold as a 1080p device? Then Nest acquired them, released the Nest camera which was basically just the same device as the Dropcam Pro repackaged but with 1080p enabled. Oh, and they made configuring the Dropcams a total pain requiring plugging it into a USB port and executing some random executable. Fun.

Very cutesy title, but a very poor title.

This is why I refuse to buy any 3rd party internet connected (I mean connects to a 3rd party, not just TCP/IP) appliance unless I can install anything I want on it.

It doesn't matter if internet connectivity is required or optional - if I'm not in charge of the software on it, and it connects to a 3rd party I refuse to buy it.

I have a feeling more and more people will refuse to buy these devices until this fad moves on.

Nice for you to say as a developer, but not every customer cares about this. I mean of course one should be able to flash new firmware. But more importantly people like Google shouldn't brick devices the customer has bought, whether they can be flashed with a new / alt firmware or not.

I think most customers that don't care about it are simple lacking the information to correctly assess the impact of it. I think accurately explaining a few of the possible downsides:

- If your internet if not functioning, the device may or may not function

- If the company that sold it to you closes, it may immediately stop functioning

- If the company that sold it to you decides to discontinue the product, it may stop functioning

- The company that sold it to you may remove or break functionality at any time. It may be left in this state for many reasons.

And then pointing to concrete examples of products where each of these cases happened, which shouldn't be that hard to do, and how long it took to happen in each case (from initial product launch and from last device sold), would result in a lot of people caring about exactly this problem.

In other words, I don't think it's that people don't care, it's that they don't know enough to know they care. It's a relatively new development, compared to items like cars, fridges and dishwashers, which is probably how a lot of people think about their appliance devices.

>but not every customer cares about this

They also don't care about your company not wanting to support a 10 year old device anymore. They bought and paid for a device and they will expect it to work until it dies or they choose to replace it. In this case it will die, but not because it's broken.

Devices like the Nest, TVs, refrigerators and so on are still expected to last many many more years than something like phones and I don't think a company like Google is capable of committing to something that long term.

The alternative to not make that long term commitment is to design devices that work without a hosted service.

It won't take many stories like this for the general public to be soured on any device that "connect to the cloud".

Right now saying that is positive advertising - it won't take much for that to be a negative when people are deciding what to buy.

> Very cutesy title, but a very poor title

We moved the comments from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11423511 which had that title.

I think your refusal is fine (in practice), but if everyone thought this way, Nest wouldn't exist.


A thermostat should not need to connect to the internet. Everything it does should be able to be done onboard.

I refuse to buy a Nest.

And problems do happen: http://techcrunch.com/2016/01/09/nests-smart-home-apps-are-b...

I'm not against IoT devices but when it requires an external service to work at all I put my foot down. I looked at devices like Nest but decided against it.

My Synology NAS has some cloud like services but it does not require any external services to work. Just the way IoT should be.

Exactly. This isn't an IoT problem, it's a cloud-based systems problem. "Cloud" actually just means "someone else's computer", and that somebody will turn off their computer someday.

Centralized IoT servers would be a lucrative target for hackers. And as much as I would like the luxury of setting my thermostat remotely as I'm leaving work; it's not worth making it accessible over the internet.

> Centralized IoT servers would be a lucrative target for hackers. And as much as I would like the luxury of setting my thermostat remotely as I'm leaving work; it's not worth making it accessible over the internet.

Well, that's a problem with centralisation. There's no reason that you shouldn't be able to connect directly & securely to your thermostat, or access it indirectly & securely via your router or home server.

Among the issues of doing this are asymmetric Internet speeds and NAT, but those are solvable.

Once of the reasons why I thought it's stupid that Google's OnHub router (everyone still remember that one?) require an app that would only work over the Internet to set it up - when it could've easily been done over its own Wi-Fi connection.

I do not want (most) IoT devices to be controlled directly over the Internet. For some it may make sense to do it like that, like say for surveillance cameras, but stuff like routers or coffee makers should be controlled locally.

Reminds be of when I bought a Nexus One because Google promised it would receive updates as soon as they were ready. The next Nexus device came out with the update, and my Nexus One didn't get it. I think it came out a half year later, but by then I'd moved on to cyanogenmod and then to iOS and never looked back. I've been weary of Google ever since.

ahh the nexus one and its ridiculously small system partition.

I still love the design of this phone, but it has severe oversights as far as evolvability goes.

And here's another reason not to buy any Nest devices now that they're owned by Google. How long until Nest itself gets shut down?

Ah. Now we see the end of the beginning of the age of IoT.

I have consistently complained that these companies are completely deficient in requiring some cloud service (read: other peoples' servers). And guess why I had those issues? Because they offload all processing to these machines to retain control of them.

I am not against companies trying to make a buck. Instead of tying your service that will explode, support open standards like MQTT, CoAP, and AMQP. Doing anything less shows to me that your business is a house of cards.

> Because they offload all processing to these machines to retain control of them.

That makes it sound like their primary concern is keeping control of the devices. In reality I think it's just laziness. We all know how much easier it is to support code running on a server than to support code running on hardware sitting on somebody's dusty garage shelf with no internet connection.

> That makes it sound like their primary concern is keeping control of the devices. In reality I think it's just laziness.

I sincerely believe that many of these entrants into IoT do want to remain in control of the devices and the users who "rent" said hardware. I've seen laziness in code before. It's usually sloppy, unmaintained/badly maintained, and just messy.

These products are polished, just work, and smooth... and make you go through their systems. That's an intentionally designed system.

> We all know how much easier it is to support code running on a server than to support code running on hardware sitting on somebody's dusty garage shelf with no internet connection.

Indeed true. I'm not advocating axing out those features. I said to add in another: which is to use open standards as well.

I also develop IoT hardware (not for sale). I use Arduino Nanos, nRF24L01+ radio chips, whatever sensors/actuators for the hardware. For the software, I use Node-Red, Mosquitto (MQTT server), and Apache NiFi. For "cloud support", I use Tor Hidden Services at every gateway machine, and communicate between .onion addresses. I effectively treat all my machines in the world as a simple ethernet hub. I'm just an individual, and was able to figure all this out.

> I'm just an individual, and was able to figure all this out.

Getting something to work one time is not remotely the same task as getting it to work for every user, every time. Getting the setup you described to work correctly is doable. Getting that setup to work for everyone who takes a box off the Home Depot shelf and plugs it in? That's hundreds of times more work. Writing a nice UI is a piece of cake in comparison. I'm still inclined to see laziness here rather than malice.

Not that it matters. The end result is the same either way: devices that spy on you unless they get bricked. I wonder if the 1984 Big Brother webcam had more than a two-year warranty.

It's definitely one of their primary concerns. If they use open standards, then other manufacturers (most likely Chinese ones with access to the latest highly-integrated bargain basement chips) can come in and undercut their pricing. Tech companies - especially VC-funded ones - are very aware of the importance of a moat around their product to stop this from happening. If they can get ongoing monthly revenue out of it now or in the future, even better.

That's why I'm waiting for the Chinese shops to start making standards-compliant gear. I will gladly buy it and recommend others to buy.

I'm sick and tired of the US 'business playground' antics. A certain VC funding group is also well known for bad antics, although they got their client company slapped down by a rogue hacker for lockdown antics :) Imagine that.


The Internet of Bricked Things.

Google basically paid a billion dollars to Tony Fadell to get him to come to Google.

I wonder how they feel about that "investment" now.

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