For some paranoid patriots in Houston, there’s a spy inside the thermostat

01/17/2014 10:51 PM

01/17/2014 10:22 PM

First, self-styled “patriot” groups told us to fear our electric meters.

Now, some Houston patriots worry our thermostats may be spying on us.

Of all the emails from Tea Party/9-12 Project groups about everything from creeping Sharia to martial law in Arlington, the wildest last week was about a home thermostat.

Google Inc.’s $3.2 billion purchase of California-based Nest Labs Inc., maker of a high-tech “smart” thermostat, has leaders of one Houston-based patriot group thinking the product is just too smart.

The $249 Nest Learning Thermostat, which senses activity to adjust heating and cooling for savings, is “nothing less than Orwellian” and “quite honestly completely frightening,” wrote Thelma Taormina of the We The People Are the 9-12 Association, which already fears monitoring from utility companies’ new wireless smart meters.

But the Nest isn’t a meter. It’s something customers buy, install and control themselves.

If you try one, and you think it’s getting too bossy with the A/C or too big for its britches in general, then just pry it off the wall.

If you want, go ahead and sledgehammer it into submission.

That’s not reassuring enough for Taormina.

“These thermostats are a huge invasion of our privacy,” she said by phone last week.

“This device will monitor your entire house for energy use,” she said.

Uh, OK?

“Then, what if Google thinks you’re using too much?” she asked.

“You see where this leads, don’t you?”

Silly me.

I thought it led to saving money.

We already have programmable thermostats.

As far as I know, they do not report my temperature settings to the New World Order.

The We The People Are the 9-12 Association’s “About Us” describes it as “a group of NON-PARTISAN Americans … We have dedicated ourselves to restoring Our Country … If you are PROUD to say you are an AMERICAN and want to know that this Country will survive with ‘Freedom and Liberty for ALL’ then we need you to join with us to Get OUR Country Back!”

Similar groups started in 2009 after TV host Glenn Beck talked wistfully about the way America unified on Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Center attacks.

I might have missed it, but I don’t remember anything back then about fearing appliances.

Taormina cited a guest column at promoting how the Nest can “learn your lifestyle” and measure energy use for ominous-sounding “treatment programs.”

Author and consultant Ron Chebra said he didn’t mean to scare up more paranoia about technology, privacy or Google.

“I believe that utilities have much more important concerns to deal with,” he wrote, “than that of mining the information of any specific individual.”

Everything — phones, television, email, cars — is connected or digitized, he wrote, and “digital information can be stored, managed and harvested.”

I’ll worry if my thermostat starts posting on Facebook.

About Bud Kennedy

Bud Kennedy


Bud Kennedy is a homegrown Fort Worth guy who started out covering high school football here when he was 16. He went away to the Fort Worth Press and newspapers in Austin and Dallas, then came home in 1981.

Since 1987, he's written more than 1,000 weekly dining columns and more than 3,000 news and politics columns. If you don't like what he says about politics, read him on barbecue.

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