Advocates blast Amazon over $1.7B iRobot deal that fuels ‘pervasive surveillance’ in the home


Privacy advocates blasted Amazon’s recently announced purchase of robot vacuum maker iRobot for fueling ‘pervasive surveillance’ as the Federal Trade Commission opened a probe into the $1.7 billion buyout.

The tech giant’s planned acquisition of the maker of Roomba vacuum cleaners will give it access to the appliance’s operating system that uses a front-facing camera to create complete maps of the inside of people’s homes – all of which can then be fed into Amazon’s existing, massive trove of data about hundreds of millions of consumers. 

‘There is no more private space than the home. Yet with this acquisition, Amazon stands to gain access to extremely intimate acts in our most private spaces that are not available through other means, or to other competitors,’ over twenty privacy and civil rights groups say in a Friday letter to the FTC.

‘Information collected by iRobot’s devices goes beyond home floor plans, and includes highly detailed information about the interiors of consumers’ homes and the schedules and lifestyles of the inhabitants,’ the letter, shared by digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, states. ‘Granting Amazon total access to this kind of private information through this acquisition harms consumers.’ 

Privacy advocates blasted Amazon’s recently announced purchase of robot vacuum maker iRobot for fueling ‘pervasive surveillance’ as the Federal Trade Commission opened a probe into the $1.7 billion buyout

'Information collected by iRobot¿s devices goes beyond home floor plans, and includes highly detailed information about the interiors of consumers¿ homes and the schedules and lifestyles of the inhabitants,' the letter, shared by digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, states

‘Information collected by iRobot’s devices goes beyond home floor plans, and includes highly detailed information about the interiors of consumers’ homes and the schedules and lifestyles of the inhabitants,’ the letter, shared by digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, states

The Seattle-based company’s Alexa speaker accounts for about 70% of the entire smart home devices market – and researchers project the total value of that market will hit $537 billion by 2030. Around a quarter of U.S. households have a least one Alexa-powered device, according to media reports.  

Under the leadership of FTC Chair Linda Khan, above, the agency has taken a more aggressive look at Big Tech in general

Under the leadership of FTC Chair Linda Khan, above, the agency has taken a more aggressive look at Big Tech in general

The advocates’ letter notes: ‘The Alexa operating system is the locus for an entire network of Amazon-owned internet connected home products including speakers, thermostats, appliances, wearables, video doorbells and a household robot similar to iRobot’s Roomba.’

The FTC – under the leadership of tech critic Linda Khan – has begun a review of Amazon’s takeover of iRobot to determine if it violates antitrust law. The two companies are bracing for a potentially lengthy and arduous investigation, people with knowledge of the probe told Politico. 

The federal agency’s review is wide-ranging, including both head-to-head competition and whether the deal will illegally boost Amazon’s market share in both the connected device market and the retail market generally, according to Politico.

One concern for regulators is how Amazon’s buyout of the robot vacuum maker could also give the retail giant an unfair advantage over many other companies.  

For instance, Amazon could have an advantage with someone looking to set up their work from home office – just by using detailed home maps created by iRobot – in order to then suggest they buy particular items.

When he spoke to The Verge in May, iRobot CEO Colin Angle said the device's AI-powered operating system would provide Roombas and other devices with a 'cloud-based home understanding'

When he spoke to The Verge in May, iRobot CEO Colin Angle said the device’s AI-powered operating system would provide Roombas and other devices with a ‘cloud-based home understanding’

Amazon’s purchase of One Medical, a membership-based primary care provider with locations across the U.S., is also being examined by the FTC. 

When he spoke to The Verge in May, iRobot CEO Colin Angle said the device’s AI-powered operating system would provide Roombas and other devices with a ‘cloud-based home understanding.’

He explained that under the system, an air purifier from Aeris — a company iRobot purchased last year — would recognize that people are in the kitchen and would then turn on in the living room, where it’s noise would not disturb anyone.

‘The idea is an operating system focused on not just activating the features of the robot, but doing so in harmony with what’s going on in the home,’ Angle said.

The robot vacuum cleaners already respond to Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice command and can understand directions to clean certain rooms. 

But with the new AI-powered operating system, he said: ‘We can know where stuff is so that if you screwed in a lightbulb, you turned on an air purifier, you plugged in a toaster, you installed a speaker, the location of those devices can be immediately understood.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk