- Amazon on Friday said so acquired iRobotthe company that makes Roomba vacuum cleaners, for $1.7 billion.
- The deal raised concerns from data privacy experts and antitrust investigators.
- People don’t buy a Roomba to “spy on the layout of their home,” one researcher said.
After Amazon said on Friday that it had acquired iRobot, the company behind Roomba vacuum cleaners, Data privacy experts and antitrust investigators were quick to sound the alarm, saying the tech giant could use the buyout to suck up personal information from inside users’ homes.
Advanced Roomba vacuums have internal mapping technology that learns the floor plan of a user’s home. The devices can also “adapt and remember” up to 10 floor plans “so users can take their robot to another floor or a separate house, where the robot will recognize their location and clean as instructed.” iRobot press releases tell. Some models have low resolution cameras to avoid obstacles and help in mapping.
“People tend to think of Amazon as an online retail company, but actually Amazon is a surveillance company. That’s at the core of their business model, and that’s what drives their monopoly power and their profits,” Evan Greer, director of the digital rights advocacy nonprofit Fight for the Future, said wired. “Amazon wants to get its hands everywhere, and acquiring a company that is essentially based on mapping the insides of people’s homes seems like a natural extension of the surveillance reach Amazon already has.”
Ron Knox, a senior fellow and writer for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit organization that provides technology assistance to community businesses, said in a series of tweet after the acquisition it was announced that the $1.7 billion The deal, the fourth largest acquisition in Amazon’s portfolio, “may be the most dangerous and threatening acquisition in the company’s history.”
The move, Knox told Insider, is uniquely dangerous for several reasons: First, Amazon will acquire established market share, not a new company, which he said would eliminate competition in a market that was no longer competitive and could promote Amazon. attain. Second, because of the large amount of data that is gained by accessing iRobot’s established data sets, Amazon can collect new information through the robots, he added.
“I think this feels really intrusive to people, and it should,” Knox told Insider. “For example, when people buy a Roomba, it’s because they want clean floors. They don’t buy a Roomba to have a little robot inside their house spying on the layout of their home and whether or not they have a crib in their house or whether there is or no pet toys and a pet bed in a room in your house. Then you can funnel that information to Amazon, and Amazon can send you any dog toy ads the next time you log in.”
Amazon declined to be interviewed by Insider about data privacy concerns, but said the company did not sell consumer data to third parties or use it for purposes that customers “have not consented to.”
“Protecting customer data has always been incredibly important to Amazon, and we believe we’ve been very good stewards of people’s data across all of our businesses,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Insider. “Customer trust is something we’ve worked hard to earn, and work hard to maintain, every day.”
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer rights advocacy group, said federal regulators should prevent Amazon’s purchase of iRobot, citing concerns about the 56.7% market share.
“The last thing Americans and the world need is for Amazon to hoover up even more of our personal information,” Weissman said. in a sentence. “It’s not just about Amazon selling another device in its marketplace. It’s about the company getting even more intimate details of our lives to gain an unfair advantage in the marketplace and sell us more stuff.”
The deal has not been approved by regulators at the Federal Trade Commission, which could finish dealing under the antitrust laws.
The Roomba deal isn’t the only recent Amazon acquisition to raise privacy concerns. The announcement came less than a month after Amazon announced a $3.9 billion deal to acquire One Medical, which promoted concerns about privacy due to the nature of medical data collection.
Ring, the company’s security and surveillance doorbell, which partners with thousands of police departments — acknowledged in a letter to Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts last month that he had shared images taken of the residences of 11 clients without warrants with law enforcement, reported politician.
“When the company that has your cameras and microphones in your speakers, your doorbell, your security cameras tries to buy the company that knows the shape and content of your home, it’s bad in every way,” Knox said.