Roomba will sell interior map of your home to highest bidder

Roomba is the name for disc-shaped robotic vacuum cleaners sold by iRobot beginning in September 2002. The little robot is equipped with sensors enabling it to change direction upon encountering obstacles, and to sense steep drops to keep it from falling down stairs.

Founded in 1990, iRobot actually began building bomb disposal robots for the U.S. Army before launching the world’s first “robovac” in 2002. The company sold off its military unit last year to focus on making Roomba for consumers, which claims as much as 88% of the U.S. robovac market. (Reuters)

Roomba ranges in price from $375 to the $899 WiFi-connected model 980.

To maximize efficiency, Roomba models manufactured in the last couple of years are equipped with mapping technology that measures — and stores — the dimensions of a room as well as distances between sofas, tables, lamps and other home furnishings. Now, iRobot plans to sell that data to smart home device manufacturers, turning the cute robot vacuum into a little spy.

Rhett Jones reports for Gizmodo, July 24, 2017:

“While it may seem like the information that a Roomba could gather is minimal, there’s a lot to be gleaned from the maps it’s constantly updating. It knows the floor plan of your home, the basic shape of everything on your floor, what areas require the most maintenance, and how often you require cleaning cycles, along with many other data points. And, according to Reuters, that data is the future of its business strategy:

“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” said [iRobot CEO Colin] Angle. […]

Angle told Reuters that iRobot, which made Roomba compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in March, could reach a deal to sell its maps to one or more of the Big Three in the next couple of years.

If a company like Amazon, for example, wanted to improve its Echo smart speaker, the Roomba’s mapping info could certainly help out. Spatial mapping could improve audio performance by taking advantage of the room’s acoustics. Do you have a large room that’s practically empty? Targeted furniture ads might be quite effective. The laser and camera sensors would paint a nice portrait for lighting needs that would factor into smart lights that adjust in real time. Smart AC units could better control airflow. And additional sensors added in the future would gather even more data from this live-in double agent.

And while Amazon seems like an obvious buyer—the kind that would pay huge money to shut out its competitors—don’t forget that Apple has its Siri speaker coming and it has a lot of catching up to do. The kind of data that iRobot is offering would give any developer a huge opportunity to fine tune the experience.

Maybe that doesn’t unnerve you, but it probably should. This is all part of the larger quest for a few major companies to hoover up every bit of data about you that they can. Now, they want to know all about your living space. Going through the iRobot terms of service, you can see just how much data is already being collected on a daily basis just by clicking like on a Facebook page or visiting a corporate website. And that data will likely be just as insecure tomorrow as it is today.

The question for iRobot and other manufacturers who are working with robovacs that use mapping is: Will users reject their product in favor of cheaper devices that offer more privacy? Angle doesn’t think that will be a problem. He tells Reuters that user data won’t be sold without permission and he thinks most people will want to take advantage of the greater functionality.

The iRobot Home app does clearly inform users that they are capable of turning off the cloud sharing functions on their Roomba. But the actual terms of service document is written in typically convoluted legal language. The privacy policy frames most data collection as something that will just make your device better and improve overall user experience. A section of the policy on sharing personal information with third parties bullet points out the situations in which iRobot could share this data.

At a glance it might seem like there’s only a narrow set of circumstances for third parties to get ahold of your info, but in reality, these guidelines give the company tons of freedom. It can share your data internally, with subsidiaries, third party vendors, and the government upon request. While a section about sharing data with third parties for marketing purposes specifies that the user must give consent, there’s this separate bullet point below that:

[We may share your personal information with] other parties in connection with any company transaction, such as a merger, sale of all or a portion of company assets or shares, reorganization, financing, change of control or acquisition of all or a portion of our business by another company or third party or in the event of bankruptcy or related or similar proceeding.

Depending on a court’s interpretation of that language, it would appear that your consent isn’t necessarily required if iRobot wanted to sell its user data in bulk to Apple. That doesn’t mean it would go forward with such a transaction without notifying users first.

Dyson, a high-end Roomba competitor, does a better job of giving users a quick breakdown of what’s in its privacy policy. But the particulars aren’t all that different than what iRobot sets out in its agreement. Dyson does promise to never “sell your personal information to anyone and only share it as outlined in this privacy policy or when you ask us to.” Of course, there’s still some wiggle room in there and Dyson also has agreements to interact with third party devices like the Amazon Echo.

[…] People will likely click “agree” to whatever terms are put in front of them. Hell, I never considered buying a Roomba until I started writing this article and thought about how much neater my apartment would be if I had one. Convenience trumps privacy every time. Just remember that the Roomba knows what room your child is in, it’s the one where it bumps into all the toys on the floor.

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25 responses to “Roomba will sell interior map of your home to highest bidder

  1. Honey, where did you put my 12 gauge?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Even though I am a Christian, I used to be into technology for much of my life, and loved computer programming. After 9/11 and the surveillance state was fully established, and other things happened as well, I don’t trust any electronic device, period. It should be an instant assumption that your devices are spying on you, and there is too much evidence to validate that so no need to think you are paranoid.
    One thing I kept, when my wife decided she wanted divorce 11 years ago, was the $1500 Kirby G5 I bought her about 18-20 yrs ago. You plug it in, turn it on and push it around. It works great, and it doesn’t collect anything but dirt, like it is supposed to do. I don’t like housework just as much as the next person… But if you are going to be lazy enough to let some stupid info gathering robot do your housework for you, and in turn the company receiving your data sells it for profit to unsavory customers (likely your government), then you deserve it, I suppose. The ONLY smart devices I own, are my blackberry phone, and this iPad tablet. I refuse to give the enemy any easy outlets into my life, they are gonna have to work for it hard… Just sayin’ 😉

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Elbow grease, that’s me! Keeps all my body parts moving and the money in my pocket to indulge in all the good things life can offer.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I’ll pass on one.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’d like to have one of those to screw with. What’s the electronic term for going insane? MY house would drive it totally nuts. Let it run for an hour and I’d find it going in very tight circles,smoking from every gap in its housing.
    I REALLY need to start cleaning all the boxes of “stuff” outta this house. (I bought the family home from Dad’s estate when he died;he and Mom were both “pack-rats”.)
    When I moved back from Idaho to take care of Dad,it took me about a month to clear enough space in the garage to unload my tool boxes from my truck. It’s SLIGHTLY better now-I can at least walk through it to reach and use my drill press and band saw,and there’s only a couple of stacks of boxes taller than I am.


  6. Pingback: Roomba will sell interior map of your home to highest bidder — Fellowship of the Minds – NZ Conservative Coalition

  7. Perfectly timed post. I was getting ready to look at them – Roomba’s – thinking how great it would be to not have to vacuum so often [a dog, two kids… husband that doesn’t realize how much he’s tracked in after work – loose sawdust, etc. – and me – in, out, in, out, all day long]. Both sisters, my sister-in-law, and best friend all just luv their Roomba’s. I checked the price a while ago, and, “Nah, not right now.” And, just recently my Mom said, “How come you don’t have a Roomba?” Yes. I am one of those fanatics that likes clean floors, and don’t hesitate to whip out the vacuum to do the kitchen floor after dinner while kids’ bath water is running – takes only a minute or two… [I don’t use a broom. It kicks up dust, whatever, into the air, onto clean counter surfaces…] Guess it’s a good thing we have an “upstairs vacuum” and a “downstairs vacuum.” At least I don’t have to haul just one all over the house. [Yep. Just lucky, I guess.] Don’t picture a Roomba coming into this house, now. Ever. [There will never be an echo thingy, either! Or “smart tv’s.”]

    Thank you, Dr. Eowyn! So, next time my Mom says, “How come you don’t have a Roomba?” I have my answer.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Roomba–enabling trouble since ’02…

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I for one, would rather have dirty floors than have a snoopy gadget wondering hither and yon around my home. I think there should be a lawsuit brought to limit what information gadgets can gather whilst in one’s home, to later be sold to some other entity. Oh! Yea they claim it will only be used to market perhaps items the homeowner might wish to purchase . . . that’s only until some nefarious fool comes up with either an illegal or immoral purpose for the gadget’s information.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Auntie Lulu, people can put a stop to the snooper by not buying it, you wanna Rumba? Do the CONGA.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Roomba Will Sell Interior Map of Your Home to Highest Bidder | The Olive Branch Report

  12. Excellent information, thank you. Out of all the invasions in our lives already, the Roomba wasn’t one that I had considered.
    From our cars, TVs, phones, all of which can be turned on remotely and eavesdropped on, I value my privacy even more.
    When we bought a GM vehicle, the OnStar was free for a year, then we never upped it, for this reason. Then we bought a Ford vehicle and they wanted us to attach our phone to it……bad. They bugged us night and day for weeks, until I finally got really nasty, then they stopped. Our cars already have a GPS that can monitor us also. Some Asian cars have cameras going non stop.
    Some days, I really pine for the good ole days when everything was simpler.
    I know most of these little gadgets are pandered to us, for our safety and convenience, but it just seems a tad intrusive,


  13. Leave Lots of stuff laying around to confuse it… If these are AI, we don’t need to worry… Cleans well, gets lost, old model, humans are way smarter…. Got it for the aged relative.. Cats love it… Otherwise very annoying…..


  14. traildustfotm

    We just discarded our Roomba units this year. None too soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A word to the wise… 😂

    This Couple Learned The Hard Way That Dog Poop And A Roomba Don’t Mix

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ever wonder what they plan on doing with all this information?

    Liked by 1 person

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