Rich Warren: I've cooled on NEST thermostat

Birds nest. The rest of us should avoid NEST. Two years ago I purchased the $250 NEST "smart" home thermostat. I thrilled at controlling my heating and cooling remotely, and being able to easily set and fine-tune my system to reduce energy consumption. The NEST even automatically keeps track of your daily schedule and operates your heating and air conditioning appropriately. Its motion sensors know when you're home and when you're away. As Shakespeare might say, therein lies the rub.

Your NEST thermostat continuously reports back to NEST central via the Internet. NEST's servers keep detailed track of your energy usage. Privacy? Forget it. Once a month, via email, it sends you a report on your energy usage. However, NEST probably knows more about your daily habits than the NSA. Recently, NEST was purchased by Google, a company expert in commoditizing data for advertising purposes.

I contacted NEST to ask that it not monitor my settings and timings and eliminate me from its database. In response, NEST replied it would be happy to do so, but my expensive "smart" NEST thermostat would revert to being a dumb thermostat comparable to a $50 model I could purchase at a home improvement store. If I demanded that NEST stop monitoring me, I could no longer control the thermostat remotely from my smartphone or tablet.

Furthermore, NEST made a change since I purchased it that requires my Wi-Fi router continuously visibly broadcast my SSID (Service Set IDentifier). Nearly all security experts recommend making the SSID invisible. (Every Wi-Fi router includes this provision in its manual settings.) An invisible SSID will not affect most wireless devices, as long as you are willing to manually enter your SSID into the device.

Lately my NEST thermostat began operating erratically. Although the technical support person was very friendly, he was loathe dealing with an out-of-warranty thermostat. Unlike most electronics that you can live without for a week, you can't live without a home thermostat for more than an hour or two. Some companies offer out-of-warranty replacements for a reduced charge, but the NEST representative did not sound eager to offer this option. Incidentally, I use one of the most expensive and favorably reviewed Wi-Fi routers, so this is not the cause of the NEST issues.

More on Comcast's Wi-Fi hotspot. Comcast asked that we clarify some fine points about its Xfinity Internet hotspot service. The most important is that you don't need Comcast's TV service to enjoy the perks of its enhanced Internet connectivity. The Wi-Fi hotspot benefits accrue to individuals subscribing to performance tier and above, and businesses subscribing to the business starter tier and above. For complete information visit: comcast.com/WiFi/faqs.html?SCRedirect=true.

Tip for cleaning LPs. Here's a quick reader question: "I am listening to my LPs for the first time in years, but with a couple of moves since the last time I did this have lost my cleaner and have not been able to find another on the shelves. I've just been using a micro cloth to dust them, but do you have another recommendation? Is Windex safe?"

A clean microfiber cloth works well to clean records. However, use no liquids not specifically formulated for LP cleaning. Definitely do not use Windex and do not use tap water. Glenn Poor's Audio-Video in Champaign and Audio Consultants in Evanston still stock LP cleaning devices and solutions.

If you want to make your own LP cleaning solution, go to a chemical supply house and buy a gallon of de-ionized water. Add about four drops or so of photographic wetting solution to this. Some experts also suggest a single drop of liquid dishwashing detergent, but that's debatable. Another additive would be about a quarter cup of pure ethyl (not methyl or isopropyl) alcohol. This should last you a lifetime. To avoid confusion, never use CD cleaning fluids on LPs and avoid using LP cleaning fluids on CDs.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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xb wrote on April 03, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Nearly all security experts recommend making the SSID invisible. (Every Wi-Fi router includes this provision in its manual settings.) An invisible SSID will not affect most wireless devices, as long as you are willing to manually enter your SSID into the device.

NO!!!! This gives minmal benefit, does not make it invisible to detection as long as there is traffic going on, and worst of all, devices you put the hidden SSID into (like laptops and phones) that leave your premises will be indiscriminately broadcasting that SSID everywhere you go, as that is the only way for it to see if the network is there (sort of by pinging it, since it won't be broadcasting). 

 

See this old article which is still relevant:

http://blogs.technet.com/b/steriley/archive/2007/10/16/myth-vs-reality-w...

and

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb726942.aspx#EDAA

bob286 wrote on April 03, 2014 at 6:04 pm

@xb totally agreed - and I am a software engineer / IT professional.  There is practically no reason to disable your SSID

 

On the next point, this article completely lacks any kind of understanding of technology.  In order to control a thermostat remotely it needs to either be accessed through a proxy server or act as a server.  Having a device that simply talks to a remote server to receive control requests is trivial, but having a device that can be accessed directly opens up a huge amount of security concerns that would place the cost of the device through the roof.  I'm not saying it's impossible to create a nest thermostat that could be controlled from the same wifi network, but I am saying that I'm perfectly happy controlling it through Nest central instead of opening up my house to hackers who want to play pranks on my heating and air conditioning.