In 2015, the Roomba robotic vacuum received a major upgrade to its sensors, letting the robot build a map of the house or apartment it patrols for dirt. And now iRobot, the company behind the Roomba, could make a deal with Amazon, Apple, or Google within the next few years to sell those maps and other user data.
While iRobot CEO Colin Angle insists that providing this data to “the big three” could greatly improve a smart home’s ability to serve customers, this potential deal represents a major privacy concern for people who use the robotic vacuum to clean their home. While most people seem to have more or less come to terms with the fact that their browsing history and online activity is being sold, data collected by a Roomba includes camera footage and updated maps of their personal space.
Angle told Reuters that he felt most people would opt into the services provided by integrating Roomba data with other smart home devices, which could include targeted ads from Amazon or orchestrating indoor lights to be most compatible with the natural light coming in through windows.
Not that consumers would necessarily have a choice in the matter. Gizmodo took a look at Roomba’s terms of service and revealed that iRobot can sell data to other companies or the government whenever any or all of their company is purchased — just like the potential deals that have Angle so excited in the first place.
Roomba develops its maps using cameras and advanced sensors to understand the layout of the room or building it’s cleaning. Previously, robotic vacuums used infrared sensors just to detect obstacles in their immediate paths, with no permanent sense of the space they were cleaning. Going back to that older model of robotic vacuum would sidestep the privacy concerns the Roomba now presents, but it would also mean taking a step back in vacuum quality and navigation.
iRobot CEO Colin Angle issued a statement on Friday, July 28th after this story ran. It reads as follows:
“iRobot does not sell data customer data. Our customers always come first. We will never violate our customer’s trust by selling or misusing customer-related data, including data collected by our connected products. Right now, the data Roomba collects enables it to effectively clean the home and provides customers with information about cleaning performance. iRobot believes that in the future, this information could provide even more value for our customers by enabling the smart home and the devices within it to work better, but always with their explicit consent.”