Smart thermostat, maximum privacy?
January 8, 2019 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I'd like a smart thermostat. I don't want my data stored or shared, if I can help it. What are my options?

I've looked a bit at both Nest and Ecobee; I'm open to other options if there's something better. (And I've tried searching for info on thermostats and privacy, but since every site in the world has a privacy page, I'm not finding anything useful.)


1. Which one should I get - or should I not get one at all?
2. How much can I control privacy settings?
3. Are there any full-featured options that don't have a microphone at all?


Things I would like:
  • The ability to set programmed times (like "turn up the heat at 3 pm every day").
  • The ability to turn the heat up or down from another room (via an app?), or even miles away if I realize I've forgotten to turn down the heat when I'm out and about.
  • If there's reporting, I'd like to be able to download data and keep it on my own computer - ideally with no interaction with the cloud (straight from the device to my computer).
Things I do not want:
  • I don't particularly want it "learning" my preferences. I'd rather tell it what I want. (I'm guessing an Ecobee is best for this.)
  • I really want to avoid sharing my data with Amazon or Google. I'd like to be able to turn off/override as much data sharing and storage as possible.
  • I don't particularly want it to automatically turn things on or off based on my arrival or presence - can I override that feature?
  • I don't want to share my data with its parent company.
  • I don't want to share my data with third parties.
  • I do NOT want voice control.
Related companies: I trust Apple a little; Google less than that; Amazon not at all. I will never use anything Alexa if I can possibly help it. I am not a fan of Nest after they bricked the Revolv devices.



I would greatly appreciate any specific recommendations and experiences you can share!

Thank you!
posted by kristi to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I would not trust any IoT device with "an app" to preserve your privacy. To make things easy for you, the user datasource, these devices and apps typically connect to a central server somewhere, which relays controls and info from the device to your phone and vice-versa. That means the entity operating the master sever inherently has access to everything.

Now, weigh that paranoia against Google/Amazon/etc already knowing almost anything they could learn from access to your thermostat-setting habits. The big cloud companies probably already know when someone's at home (by correlating logged-in uses of eg: google/facebook/amazon services against both your home IP and your mobile device IP). So they learn what temperature you like -- is that a data leak you are willing to accept as a trade for ease of remote access?

The alternative is running a home automation server yourself, on-prem or in a datacenter/someone's cloud. I use Home Assistant running on a single-board computer in my closet for this purpose, but I give up remote control (I could open it to the outside world but that's an attack surface I don't really need). There are other options but they're similar in that they're more work than trusting somebody else's server. Opportunity costs!
posted by Alterscape at 8:41 AM on January 8 [5 favorites]


Regarding the Nest:
I don't particularly want it "learning" my preferences
I don't particularly want it to automatically turn things on or off based on my arrival or presence
You can completely turn both these features off.

The ability to set programmed times (like "turn up the heat at 3 pm every day").
The ability to turn the heat up or down from another room (via an app?), or even miles away if I realize I've forgotten to turn down the heat when I'm out and about.
If there's reporting, I'd like to be able to download data and keep it on my own computer - ideally with no interaction with the cloud (straight from the device to my computer).


You can do the first two things, but the there's no out-of-the-box functionality for the third aside from a little chart of when the heating was on or off over the last week or so. You can hook up IFTTT to trigger actions (eg editing a Google Spreadsheet) based on the thermostat temp and when it's activated, meaning you can create some of your own (basic) reporting (but, uh, that breaks the "no third parties" rule I guess).

The Nest does not have a microphone at all.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:42 AM on January 8


Take a look at the Radio Thermostat brand - they make basic programmable thermostats that have a WiFi add-on card. I happen to also use Home Assistant with my Radio Therm device, but Radio Therm has their own basic "cloud" (that is, remote access) feature and mobile apps. What's nice is that due to the open API, other developers have made mobile and PC apps available to control the thermostats, so you can choose to just not use the internet with the thermostat at all.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:45 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


I have an older house and older furnace, no AC, and I just got a new thermostat. I was going to get a Honeywell Wi-Fi one so I could adjust the heat with my phone. Turning the heat up from my bed is appealing. But a Wi-Fi thermostat will require a c-wire from the furnace to the thermostat, to supply power. It was more hassle than I was up for so I got another programmable one, and it's fine. Anyway, check the requirements to avoid unpleasant surprises when you install it.
posted by theora55 at 8:53 AM on January 8


I have a Honeywell RTH6580WF. It meets some, but not all of your requirements.


It meets your requirements on these items:
  • The ability to set programmed times
You can set a schedule for each day of the week with up to four changes per day (wake, leave, return, sleep)
  • The ability to turn the heat up or down from another room (via an app?), or even miles away if I realize I've forgotten to turn down the heat when I'm out and about.
You can do this from a phone app or from a Honeywell-operated website.
  • I don't particularly want it "learning" my preferences. I'd rather tell it what I want.
This thermostat does not learn preferences/habits/etc. It runs the schedule you tell it unless you override that by pressing its buttons or changing its setting via the app or website.
  • I really want to avoid sharing my data with Amazon or Google.
I am not aware of a mechanism by which your data from this thermostat will be shared with Amazon or Google, although I suppose you would need to read the terms of service to know for sure.
  • I don't particularly want it to automatically turn things on or off based on my arrival or presence - can I override that feature?
This thermostat is not capable of detecting your arrival or presence and thus will not attempt to take any action based on that status.
  • I do NOT want voice control.
This thermostat does not have voice control. It does not have a microphone.




It does not meet your requirements on these items:
  • If there's reporting, I'd like to be able to download data and keep it on my own computer - ideally with no interaction with the cloud (straight from the device to my computer).
This thermostat doesn't do much reporting. The only reporting I get from mine is a monthly email from Honeywell which only contains a couple of data points such as how many hours the heat and cooling ran, and how much of the time the thermostat was running its scheduled program vs how much of the time it was on manual hold. I am not aware of any way to disable this cloud-based reporting other than by disabling Wi-Fi on the thermostat entirely, which would defeat the purpose of having a remotely controllable thermostat.
  • I don't want to share my data with its parent company.
If you connect it to Wi-Fi, which is necessary if you want to be able to adjust it remotely, this thermostat will share its data with Honeywell's cloud service.




I do not know whether it meets your requirements on this item:
  • I don't want to share my data with third parties.
I did not read the service agreement in enough detail to know whether it addresses the topic of whether Honeywell will share your data with third parties.




It would be nice to have an IP-connected thermostat that just lets you send commands directly to it and either isn't associated with a cloud service, or can have the cloud service turned off. I wouldn't have any problem setting this up, but I can understand why consumer products manufacturers aren't pushing them heavily. I will be curious to see if others know of any thermostats like that.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 8:58 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


We just got the Honeywell one mentioned above (my husband was able to figure out the c-wire thing on his own, but he is admittedly pretty familiar with electrical wiring). It does have an app but does not require a connection to google or apple or anything else. We don't have any of the learning or GPS features turned on.
posted by something something at 8:59 AM on January 8


Here is some info about Honeywell's Connected Home system, which is hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud.
posted by soelo at 9:14 AM on January 8


As much as people don't trust Google for privacy, I tend to find it to be the best choice for the discerning consumer. Unlike smaller companies, or those new relatively to the internet of things (i.e. Honeywell), Google has entire teams dedicated to privacy and has proper channels of review of security and data protection practices for every product. While they might come out the gate with defaults that you don't like, they will be very very clear about whether they're collecting data or not -- and will typically allow you to control the data they collect. With other vendors I think you have no such assurance: they might write some legal boilerplate about caring about your security, but I wouldn't trust any of them to take it really seriously.
posted by haykinson at 11:34 PM on January 8


These were all very helpful answers - thank you! I'll read through all the various provided info and try to decide where to go from there.

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and info!
posted by kristi at 10:20 AM on January 11


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