Securing The Smart Home

The termination of the Revolv home hub raises questions about ownership of smart home products.
Published: Mon 25 Apr 2016

The need for interoperability is two-fold. On one hand it ensures that products from different manufacturers and providers can work together on a common network. On the other, and by extension, it ensures that if product lines are withdrawn or worse if the company goes out of business, they can be readily replaced in the case of failure or at end of life.

But what happens when that product is a central controller or hub, and perhaps more critical or less easily replaceable than a peripheral component? And what rights might a user have?

Nest shuts down Revolv

The question has come to the fore with the decision by Nest, or presumably ultimately Google as Nest’s owner, to shut down Revolv – the smart home startup that Nest acquired in October 2014. Revolv had brought to market a smart home hub and at the time of the takeover, this was withdrawn from sale as the company focused its activities on the Works with Nest programme. With the latest decision, the Revolv hub and the associated app will be blocked from functioning (as of May 15) and all data will be deleted.

The number of Revolv customers isn’t known but isn’t believed to be that large. Nor, considering their likely profile and the costs of electronic devices, was the $300 cost of the hub that high or bank breaking. But still the backlash was significant enough that Google reportedly has decided to consider compensation on a customer by customer basis.

Notably, and although not connected, it’s not the first time that Nest and Google have been in the firing line. Late last year there were cases of a software update shutting down the Nest thermostat resulting in homes being left in the cold. [Engerati-A Return To The “Dumb“ Home? ]

The smart home opportunity

The issue at this early stage of smart home adoption is the extent of the impact of the Revolv decision on that or whether the greater ire will be reserved for Google. Our betting is the latter. Press reports quote issues such as reneging on the promised ‘lifetime subscription’ and the fact that the device is being disabled rather than simply left to run – presumably because it relies on some server support from Nest.

Indeed, one user, Arlo Gilbert, in a post criticizing the decision, praised: “Revolv is the director and my devices are a beautiful orchestra of home technology.”

That writer admits that ultimately the issue “isn’t the end of the world” and that a “not terribly expensive” replacement device can be purchased, but then goes on to question which further hardware Google might choose to “intentionally brick up”.

Ultimately, and presumably in this case, the decision is a business one and the fact is, products do come and go, whether through not attracting enough consumer uptake, in a company takeover or for some other reason. Further the hardware and software components of a device may not be architected to enable a device to continue functioning without ongoing software support.

In a burgeoning sector like smart homes many new products will be introduced to the market backed with fulsome praise but no doubt a good number of them won’t last. Quite simply, users should do their homework and ensure that the products they purchase can form part of an interoperable system. Certification programmes can play an important role here, which product developers and vendors worth their salt should take advantage of.

References

The time that Tony Fadell sold me a container of hummus