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"At This Point" -- Nest CEO's Adds Slight Hedge on Data Collection

Will the well-known entrepreneur, committed to privacy, be able to resist the Dyson vacuum of the Internet?

Nest CEO Tony Fadell said in an interview today in Germany that even though Google has just spent $3.2 billion to acquire his smart home devices company, he doesn’t see its mission changing.

That said, he also slightly hedged earlier statements about Nest’s privacy policies that he made at the time the search giant bought the company. They now state that the only data Nest collects is to improve the functionality of its products.

In an interview with Re/code last week, for example, right after the deal, Fadell said about the privacy concerns: “There’s perception and there’s reality, and the reality of the situation is that the Nest data will stay with Nest. Our SLA will not change, our Terms of Service will not change. Nest data will be used to improve Nest data, that’s all.”

But in an interview with CNN’s Laurie Segall at the Digital-Life-Design conference in Munich today, Fadell — who will also be speaking at our Code Conference later this year — added to the notion that Nest might collect data for any reason other than making its devices run better.

“At this point, there are no changes … The data that we collect is all about our products and improving them,” he said. “If there are ever any changes, we will be transparent about it.”

It’s a subtle but important difference, adding such phrases — “At this point,” “If there are ever any changes,” “transparent” — that are definitely a shade more unclear and allow for any possible changes to come.

To be fair, Fadell does seem very committed to privacy protections for its users and it seems at the heart of his startup.

Still, Google is a company that thrives on the collection of data of every sort, sucking up information like the Dyson vacuum cleaner on steroids for its various and sundry reasons. So — despite Fadell’s attempts to sounds as decisive as he can on how there will be no change in what Nest collects from its devices and why — questions are likely to continue.

Also in the interview, Fadell also said he doesn’t expect anything fundamental to change about Nest’s mission as it becomes part of Google.

“At the end of the day, Nest will remain Nest. We will have the Nest brand. We will have our sales. We will have our marketing forces. We will have our product teams,” he said.

Asked why he thinks Google was the right company to acquire Nest, Fadell described what sounds like what was for him a pretty heady meeting of the minds with Google CEO Larry Page.

In fact, it sounded like a mind meld, according to Fadell:

“When I met with Larry and the management team there, my brain started … typically you go in the meeting and you go ‘Okay I’m going to tell Larry what we do and I’m going to teach people about what we do.’ When I was with them, the amount of things that I learned from them personally in the same meetings that they learned from me personally, the two-way interchange, for me the intellectual happiness and stimulation of being able to go back and forth and really create a new world together in a different way than either of us imagined … We were finishing each other’s sentences and the visions that we had were just so large and so great and they weren’t scared by them. We were both getting exhilarated by what could change and how things could change and that we could have the ability together to change those things.”

Asked if being part of Google might lead to a widening of the kinds of smart home hardware the company has put out so far, including the Nest thermostat and Protect smoke detector, he said very clearly he sees no change in product plans on the immediate horizon.

“Right now our vision is to build out the Nest vision and that is what we clearly communicated to Larry and the team, and that is what they communicated back: Build the thing that you guys really want to build,” said Fadell. “And if you have some spare cycles some time in the future maybe you might want to look at other things … but we have a lot of work to do before we say we can move on to something else.”

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