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Google: A New Kind of Real Estate Play

In recent weeks, the focus has been largely on Apple’s newly released iPhone encryption code, which puts control over personal data back in consumers’ hands. Too much so, if you ask law enforcement. While conversations abound about government overreach, privacy concerns and the downsides of data as currency — hello Ello — it seems timely to revisit Google, the company now infamous for its “don’t be evil” statement.

In fact, Google also has been in the news, though much less prominently than Apple: Fast Company’s Innovative by Design issue dedicates this month’s cover to Nest CEO Tony Fadell and the previously unlikely marriage of Google and Apple (design) thinking.

The article states: “The connected home has long been the fantasy of the tech world. But while Apple, Google, and Microsoft dominate PCs, mobile devices, and car consoles, and GE and Honeywell lord over household appliances, no company has successfully merged the two spaces to take over the home–despite trying for decades.”

There is no denying that Google’s $3.5 billion acquisition of Nest accomplished two major strategic goals: getting closer to merging the two spaces and taking a bite out of Apple’s design thinking.

However, we may wish to ask what Google is truly pursuing, because one might also read the addition of Nest as yet another play in further owning the real estate of “YOU.”  Google has been parceling each and every inch of our lives, treating our bodies and environment as a new kind of real estate. How? Consider this:

Nest feeds Google with information about our energy needs, comings and goings, sleeping patterns and more.

Street View tells Google where and how we live — in a hip downtown, a posh suburb, or a fixer-upper neighborhood.

Gmail and Chrome give Google access to our fingertips and brains courtesy of every search we make, and every email we type, read, forward or answer.

Maps guide us but also Google – they share in our journeys.

Contact Lenses ensure both we and Google have an eye on our health, quite literally — while the forthcoming glucose-measuring contact lenses for diabetics sound like a smart invention, Google now also gathers highly personal information on our daily health stats.

Glasses enhance our eyes and journeys, yet they also provide Google with our view of the world, how we experience it, and what we focus on.

The Car, though still in development, would be a major piece in Google’s quest to “own” all of the consumer real estate. Consumers increasingly treat their cars like homes on wheels, given many of us spend an inordinate amount of time in our cars — alone, with friends, colleagues and family members.

The ability to become ever more intimately familiar with each of us individually gives Google more than just unparalleled amounts of data. In some ways, Google is mapping our bodies and lives, slowly but surely owning the real estate of “YOU.”

This new kind of real estate play is certainly a far cry from the connected home depicted in Jacques Tati’s 1958 movie Mon Oncle where a simple citizen, played by Tati, tries to control kitchen appliances gone mad. The one commonality the two visions share is design. Both in 1958 and in 2014, design is what eases the fears YOU might have in engaging with new technologies and nobody is better at doing so than Apple. So, no surprise that Google enrolls some of the best design minds from Diane Von Furstenberg to former Google executives in their quest to own YOU.

Insidious, for sure, but also well played, Google.



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