Amazon buys Roomba for data collection


Late last week, it was announced that Amazon was to acquire iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba robot vacuum. The Roomba is a wildly successful product, but is cleaning the house really worth the $1.7 billion cash prize? No of course not. This deal has nothing to do with Amazon wanting to help you clean up; it’s about wanting to get a map of your house.

When you set up Roomba to run, it creates a digital map of your home. Newer models already pair with Alexa and Google devices and allow customers to do some pretty cool things with the technology, like using voice commands to tell their little robots to clean a certain room in the house. But the convenience that mapping provides to customers pales in comparison to the amount of data it will provide to Amazon.

Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, a non-profit digital rights organization, said Wired: “People tend to think of Amazon as an online retail company, but in reality, Amazon is a surveillance company. That’s the core of its business model, and that’s what drives its monopoly power and its profits. Well, that’s terrifying!

On Twitter, the researcher Ron Knox said that it “could be the most dangerous and threatening acquisition in company history” for similar reasons (as well as the antitrust monopoly implications of allowing one company to have so much data).

Amazon already knows so much about us beyond what we buy on the site. They use Alexas to learn people’s search histories and patterns, music tastes, schedules and calendars. They also own Ring, which gives them insight into how we socialize inside and outside of our homes. (They’ve also partnered with law enforcement to share this information with police without users’ permission or even a warrant.)

At this point, I’m sure tons of Amazon customers hear the Roomba news and think, what difference does it make? At this point they know all about us, so what if they also have a map of my furniture? Which, of course, could be true. But that’s also certainly what Amazon is counting on us to do, which is probably worth resisting, if only on principle.

(photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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