From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

An Open Letter to Google Nest (was: OMG, F*CKING NEST PROTECT AGAIN!)

[Updates (1) and (2) at the bottom of the post]

It's 01:24am, on Tuesday, August 25, 2015.  I am, again, awake in the the middle of the night, due to another false alarm from Google's spitefully sentient, irascibly ignorant Nest Protect "smart" smoke alarm system.

Exactly how I feel right now.  Except I'm in my pajamas.
Warning: You'll find very little profanity on this blog.  However, the filter is off for this post.  Apologies in advance.

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh.
My.
God.
FOR FUCK'S SAKE.

"Heads up, there's smoke in the kids room," she says.  Not once, but 3 times in a 30 minute period, between 12am and 1am, last night.


That's my alarm clock.  Right now.  I'm serious.
"Heads up, there's smoke in the guest bedroom," she says again tonight a few minutes ago, at 12:59am.

There was in fact never any smoke to clear.
Is it possible for anything wake you up more seriously and violently in a cold panic than a smoke alarm detecting something amiss in your 2 year old's bedroom?

Here's what happens (each time)...

Every Nest Protect unit in the house announces, in unison, "Heads up, there's smoke in the kids' room."  Then both my phone and my wife's phone buzzes on our night stands, with the urgent incoming message from the Nest app.  Another few seconds pass, and a another set of alarms, this time delivered by email, in case you missed the first two.

The first and second time it happens, you jump up immediately.  You run into their room and make sure everyone is okay -- both the infant in the crib and toddler who's into everything.  You walk the whole house, checking the oven, the stove, the toaster, the computer equipment.  You open the door and check around outside.  When everything is okay, you're left with a tingling in the back of your mind, wondering what went wrong.  When you're a computer engineer by trade, you're trying to debug the hardware and/or software bug causing the false positive.  Then you set about trying to calm your family and get them back into bed.  And at some point later, you calm your own nerves and try to get some sleep.  It's a work night after all.

But the third, fourth, and fifth time it happens?  From 3 different units?

Well, it never ceases to scare the ever living shit out of you, waking up out of deep sleep, your mind racing, assessing the threat.

But then, reality kind of sets in.  It's just the stupid Nest Protect fucking it all up again.

Roll over, go back to bed, and pray that the full alarm doesn't sound this time, waking up both kids and setting us up for a really bad night and next few days at school.

It's not over yet, though.  You then wait for the same series of messages announcing the all clear -- first the bitch over the loudspeaker, followed by the Android app notification, then the email -- each with the same message:  "Caution, the smoke is clearing..."

THERE WAS NEVER ANY FUCKING SMOKE, YOU STUPID CYBORG. 

20 years later, and the smartest company in the world
creates a smoke detector that broadcasts the IoT equivalent
of PC LOAD LETTER to your smart home, mobile app, and email.
But not this time.  I'm not rolling over.  I'm here, typing with every ounce of anger this Thinkpad can muster. I'm mashing these keys in the guest bedroom that's supposedly on fire.  I can most assuredly tell you that it's a comfy 72 F, that the air is as clean as a summer breeze.

I'm writing this, hoping that someone, somewhere hears how disturbingly defective, and dangerously disingenuous this product actually is.

It has one job to do.  Detect and report smoke.  And it's unable to do that effectively.  If it can't reliably detect normality, what confidence should I have that it'll actually detect an emergency if that dreaded day ever comes?

The sad, sobering reality is: zero.  I have zero confidence whatsoever in the Nest Protect.

What's worse, is that I'm embarrassed to say that I've been duped into buying 7 (yes, seven) of these broken pieces of shit, at $99 apiece.  I'm a pretty savvy technical buyer, and admittedly a pretty magnanimous early adopter.  But while I'm accepting on beta versions of gadgets and gizmos, I am entirely unforgiving on the safety and livelihood of my family and guests.

Michael Larabel of Phoronix recounts his similar experience here.  He destroyed one with a sledgehammer, which might provide me with some catharsis when (not if, but when) this happens again.

Michael Larabel of Phoronix destroyed his malfunctioning Nest Protect
with a 20 lb sledgehammer, to silence the false alarm in the middle of the night
 There's a sad, long, thread on Nest's customer support forum, calling for a better "silence" feature.  I'm sorry, that's just wrong.  The solution is not a better way to "silence" false positives.  Root out the false positives to begin with.  Or recall the hardware.  Tut, tut, tut.

You can't be serious...
This is from me to Google and Nest on behalf of thousands of trusting families out there:  You have the opportunity, and ultimately the obligation.  Please make this right.  Whatever that means, you owe the world that.
  • Ship working firmware.
  • Recall faulty hardware.
  • Refund the product.
Okay, the empassioned rant is over.  Time for data.  Here is the detailed, distressing timeline.
  • January 2015: I installed 5 Nest Protects: one in each of two kids' rooms, the master bedroom, the hallway, and the kitchen/living room
  • February 2015: While on a business trip to, South Africa, I received notification via email and the Nest App that there was a smoke emergency at my home, half a world away, with my family in bed for the night.  My wife called me immediately -- in the middle of the night in Texas.  My heart raced.  She assured me it was a false alarm, and that she had two screaming kids awake from the noise.  I filed a support ticket with Nest (ref:_00D40Mlt9._50040jgU8y:ref) and tried to assure my wife that it was just a glitch and that I'd fix it when I got home.

  • May 23, 2015: We thought it was funny enough to post to Facebook, "When Nest mistakes a diaper change for a fire, that's one impressive poop, kiddo!"  Not so funny now.


  • August 9, 2015: I installed 2 more Nest Protects, in the guest bedroom and my office
  • August 21, 2015, 11:26am: While on a flight home from another business, trip, I receive another set of daytime warnings about smoke in the house.  Another false alarm.
  • August 24, 2015, 12am: While asleep, I receive another 3 false alarms.
  • August 25, 2015, 1am: Again, asleep, another false alarm.  Different room, different unit.  I'm fucking done with these.
I'm counting on you Google/Nest.  Please make it right.

Burning up but not on fire,
Dustin

Update #1: I was contacted directly by email and over Twitter, by Nest's "Executive Relations", who offer to replace of all 7 of my "v1" Nest Protects with 7 new "v2" Nest Protects, at no charge.  The new "v2" Protect reportedly has an improved design with better photoelectric detector that reduces false positives.  I was initially inclined to try the new "v2" Protects, however, neither the mounting bracket nor the wiring harness are compatible from v1 to v2.  So I would have to replace all of the brackets and redoing all of the wiring myself.  I asked, but Nest would not cover the cost of a professional (re-)installation.  At this point, as expressed my disappointment in this alternative, and I was offered a full refund, in 4-6 weeks time, after I return the 7 units.  I've accepted this solution and will replace the Nest Protects with a simpler, more reliable traditional smoke detector. 
Update #2: I suppose I should mention that I generally like my Nest Thermostat and (3) Dropcams.  This blog post is really only complaining about the Titanic disaster that is the Nest Protect.

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