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Is Your Roomba Spying On You?

July 28, 2017brands, companies

High-end models of Roomba, iRobot’s robotic vacuum, collect data as they clean, identifying the locations of your walls and furniture. This helps them avoid crashing into your couch, but it also creates a map of your home that iRobot is considering selling to Amazon, Apple or Google.

Colin Angle, chief executive of iRobot, told Reuters that a deal could come in the next two years, though iRobot said in a statement on Tuesday: “We have not formed any plans to sell data.”

In the hands of a company like Amazon, Apple or Google, that data could fuel new “smart” home products.

“Just remember that the Roomba knows what room your child is in,” Rhett Jones wrote in Gizmodo. “It’s the one where it bumps into all the toys on the floor.”

Albert Gidari, director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, said that if iRobot did sell the data, it would raise a variety of legal questions.

What happens if a Roomba user consents to the data collection and later sells his or her home — especially furnished — and now the buyers of the data have a map of a home that belongs to someone who didn’t consent, Mr. Gidari asked. How long is the data kept? If the house burns down, can the insurance company obtain the data and use it to identify possible causes? Can the police use it after a robbery?

The potential of “smart” tech and data collection is often the topic of discussion at coworking spaces in NYC. At Workville, our private office and coworking members work across a variety of fields and industries but they all have one thing in common: data collection. Whether it’s an email list of newsletter subscribers, a targeted ad campaign on Facebook, or trends in product inventory, every member company at Workville collects and utilizes data. That’s nothing new.

But when we talk about selling that data, like iRobot is discussing, well, that’s a different situation altogether. And as the tech progresses we’ll certainly see more precedents for the legality in that regard.

The Supreme Court has held that Americans have “a reasonable expectation of privacy in your home,” Mr. Gidari said. “Once your home is turned inside out, does that reasonable expectation of privacy dissipate?”

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